The buzz around Valley Ranch is that the Dallas Cowboys won’t sign outside linebacker Anthony Spencer to a contract extension before Monday’s deadline. The Cowboys used the franchise tag on Spencer this off-season, ensuring the free agent would play in Dallas for at least one more season. Spencer signed the tender on April 23, agreeing to the deal and an $8.8 million salary for the 2012 season. Leaving everything up in the air after that is a smart move by the Cowboys.
Spencer hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft pick status. Last season, his fifth in the NFL, was roughly the same as his previous two stats-wise (6.0 sacks and 66 tackles), but it still wasn’t at the level Dallas needs. That was even more evident when the Cowboys took outside linebacker Kyle Wilber in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, a player Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan calls a great all-around player.
Indeed, Ryan specifically pointed out Wilber’s pass coverage ability that is a nice complement to his pass-rushing skills. Wilber was recently signed to his four-year rookie deal, so he’ll be in Dallas for the foreseeable future while Spencer and fellow outside linebacker Victor Butler are pondering their NFL futures.
Both players will definitely be playing (and likely starting) for an NFL team in 2013, but it might not be the Cowboys. Dallas is smart to put both players in a position to earn new contracts at the end of the season. Off-season rules won’t allow the team to negotiate a new deal with the tagged Spencer until the season is over, so that gives Wilber and Butler the upper hand in this battle to keep their jobs.
The whole situation puts Dallas in the catbird’s seat. Wilber is here to stay and he might break out in his rookie season, giving the Cowboys stability at the position for at least the next four years. Butler is even more likely to break out and he can be signed to a contract extension during the season, so Dallas will be able to lock him up if he proves as valuable as Jerry Jones says he is. If Spencer earns the right to a new deal at the end of the year, Jones will get rid of Butler and reach into his deep pockets to make sure Spencer stays in Dallas.
If all else fails, the Cowboys can use the franchise tag on Spencer again next off-season or on Butler if he absolutely explodes and won’t sign an extension during the season. Regardless, Dallas is wise not to fold and give Spencer an extension he doesn’t deserve.