Although they wanted to get a deal done, the Dallas Cowboys failed to reach an agreement with Anthony Spencer on a long-term contract with the deadline for doing so at 3:00 p.m. Central Time on Monday. The team had confidence a deal would be in place by the deadline, but five hours prior, it was reported no such agreement was in place and the two sides were giving up. That means Spencer will play under the franchise tag — again — this time for $10.6 million.
The truth of the matter is both sides gave up on putting a long-term deal in place in late June, so now the Cowboys can focus their attention on extending the contracts of players like Sean Lee, who are far more deserving than Spencer.
Yes, Spencer had his best season as a pro in 2012 under the franchise tag, recording 95 tackles and 11 sacks in 14 games, but it took him six years to do it and as a former first-round pick, that’s not a good thing. Add in the fact it was the second and final year the Cowboys ran Rob Ryan‘s exotic version of the 3-4 defense and Spencer might be in for a rough encore to his best NFL season to date.
The Cowboys are switching to the 4-3 defense in 2013 under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, which means Spencer will be playing defensive end for the first time in the NFL. Spencer played with his hand in the dirt during his college days at Purdue and seems excited to rush the passer and not “have to worry about any of the coverage stuff.” The 29-year-old says his new job is “the easy part” of playing defense.
Spencer better hope that’s the case because his stock could drop considerably if he struggles in the 4-3 defense and he could find himself overlooked in the free agent frenzy next year. In 2012, Spencer recorded 28 more tackles than any previous season, which speaks to his ability to stop the run as an outside linebacker. Now that task will be much more difficult at defensive end and not having played it in six years — and never in the pros — will likely prove to be more of a challenge than Spencer is anticipating.
If that proves to be the case, the Cowboys may have just dodged a bullet by not giving the one-time Pro Bowler a long-term contract this offseason. Had Dallas stuck with Ryan’s 3-4 defense, then getting Spencer locked up would have been a whole different story, but now he needs to prove himself at a new position in a new scheme. He’s a good pass-rusher — not a great one — at this point in his NFL career, so it’s important that Spencer earns the deal he almost got this offseason with his play on the field in Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme in 2013.
If Spencer struggles, the Cowboys will look smart when this deal-that-almost-was is revisited down the road, even though we all know the truth. You can say you heard it here first: the Spencer deal not getting done will be a blessing in disguise for Dallas.