By Clarence E. Hill Jr.
Irving _ The Cowboys officially placed the franchise tag on free agent linebacker Anthony Spencer, guaranteeing him $8.8 million for next season.
He is the third player in team history to receiver the franchise tag, joining safety Ken Hamlin and tackle Flozell Adams. In both cases, the team worked out long-term contract extensions before the season.
They could do the same with Spencer, and that's what his agent Roosevelt Barnes hopes will happen.
Their goal is to get a long-term contract for Spencer, and he says he plans to continue to talk to the Cowboys about a deal.
The deadline to sign the franchise tag is July 16. If the two sides don't sign a deal by then Spencer will play the season under the $8.8 million tag.
Doing a deal would lower the cap hit for the Cowboys, but at this point, they are not that far along in the process and seemingly not ready to commit long term to Spencer.
What is certain is that the Cowboys do want him back next year and had no choice but to apply the franchise tag to ensure his return.
He was sure to get a big-money contract from another team if he got to the free agent agency, because it’s a thin market for 3-4 linebackers.
Now at least, the Cowboys have the right to match any offer and would get a two first-round picks in return if Spencer signed elsewhere.
The Cowboys also have no internal options to fill his role on the team despite criticism that Spencer has not lived up to expectations since being picked in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Spencer has been a solid run stopper but has not had more than six sacks in a season, thus falling short as legitimate passing rush threat opposite Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware. Spencer has 21.5 sacks in the five seasons since the Cowboys made him a first-round draft pick.
Owner Jerry Jones seemingly set the stage for Spencer return during the NFL Scouting Combine when he praised his play and blamed his poor sack numbers on how he was being used.
Jones said he Spencer would have more sacks if he allowed to rush the passer more, which would be part of the team’s game plan if were to return next season.
“He’s your edge guy,” Jones said. “He plays differently by design than [DeMarcus] Ware, and let’s say he’s a set-your-edge and Ware is freer to go. Now the fact that Ware draws the chip, draws the block, the double team, then that should make Spencer have an edge. That should free up Spencer more, but you could come up with a concept that if you had two Wares you can set the edge less with the other guy.
“Let’s not say Spencer, but name another top pass rusher in the league and had them at both ends, you would play them differently than we would Spencer. If we end up changing that then you will see Spencer with better sack numbers, not necessarily at the expense of Ware, but just by doing it differently.”
Spencer's $8.8 million tagging will not prevent the Cowboys from being players in free agency where they hope to target a veteran cornerback to replace Terence Newman. The Cowboys had $12.6 in cap room before giving Spencer the franchise tag.
However they can clear more room by restructuring the contracts of tackle Doug Free and cornerback Orlando Scandrick and releasing Newman, which could save the Cowboys between $4 million and $6 million alone.