Just hours remain now before the 3pm deadline for the franchise tag to be applied to impending free agents around the national football league. This blog has been a place that has written plenty about the Cowboy's options, and the wisest decision was concluded here long ago that the Cowboys should apply the tag to outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.
There is no question that this is being considered about as insane as the last two times the Cowboys arrived at such a decision - with Flozell Adams (2002) and Ken Hamlin (2008). Because in each case, the player was certainly not an elite player at his position, nor the very definition of the words "Franchise Player". However, it is merely a label that explains the original intent of the rule, not the present way it is used around the league as the annual safe-guard for making sure teams don't lose their best free agent without some resistance.
It should also be noted that the Cowboys with Adams and Hamlin used the tag simply to obtain leverage against a player in a negotiation. Let's look at that with Spencer.
Say they have offered Spencer 5 years, $30 million, with $15 guaranteed for a long term extension (it should be noted that I am absolutely picking those numbers out of mid-air and have no insight as to whether this is actually being discussed. Just an educated guess). He is right to wonder if there is a better offer out there among the 31 other teams, given that now that a few other players have been taken off the market. If he squints really hard, he can see how his agent could make the case he is one of the very best free agents at the position to hit the streets on March 13th.
So, when Spencer compares 5/$30m with whatever his agent considers is the going rate (let's say 6/$40m), you can see how that camp would not be happy with the offer and hold tight to their demands that the Cowboys slide more money over to his side. But, he needs those imagined offers from other camps to build his case. Otherwise, once the tag is slapped on him, he realizes (whether he wants to or not) that his leverage has completely disappeared and now he must compare his two offers: 5/$30m or 1/$8.8m, both from the offices of Jerry and Stephen Jones.
And, like Flozell and Hamlin before him, he will likely be annoyed by that change in leverage (no mystery team with a large bid coming) but will come to his senses once he ponders the possibility of an injury or a down season in 2012. Usually, after his agent has tried every trick in the book to get the Jones family to bid against itself in the name of "doing the right thing", the player will take the offer by the mid-July deadline that had been on the table since mid-February. Again, I may have to dollars wrong, but this story is repeated every year around the league with few exceptions.
Hamlin and Adams then signed their deals for multi-years and the franchise tag had accomplished its goal and gone back in the cupboard. The players ultimately got their money, but not as much as they had originally dreamed. And the fans who gasped at the idea of terming Ken Hamlin as a "franchise player" went back to doing something else with their time.
If Spencer doesn't like the insult of 1 year/$8.8 million, then players need to remember to fight harder against that in the next CBA. But, they never agree on that sort of thing that applies to such a small percentage of players. In fact, most players would look at that one-year pay day as much more than they made in their entire careers. This is not something that gathers enough at the grass roots to get it to change. Of course, players can make much more if they have 32 bidders at the auction, but nobody is going to cry for a player like Spencer that has frankly disappointed during his career to this juncture.
His options remain, such as signing the 1-year tender with the condition that the Cowboys can not franchise him again next season. He can bet on himself and hit free agency next year with a lot of cash in his account and hope to hit it big next year. He can also choose to not sign the tender altogether and hope to force a trade with a hold-out, but it doesn't appear that Spencer is willing to do that. Players who have that amount of nerve better also have a playing resume that is unquestioned. Spencer is not in that class.
So, expect the tag today and an announcement of a 5-year deal in a few months. This allows the Cowboys to focus on a number of players who are of greater priority than Spencer.
Allow me to address one further argument against the franchise tag for Spencer. Many emailers will say that "this consumes a majority of the Cowboys' money to spend in this offseason". The idea is that the Cowboys have $17m in cap room, and if they spend $9m on Spencer, then they are pretty much done.
This is just not the case. The Cowboys have a number of deals that are easy to restructure. One phone call to Tony Romo's people can generate enough cap room to consume the entire Spencer deal by converting salary into bonus money with just his deal. DeMarcus Ware and Doug Free can also be used to find cash with great ease. The $17m in cap room is actually a lot closer to $30m plus if the Cowboys wish to use all of their resources to get things accomplished. And then, once Spencer does the inevitable, the ability to convert his $9m back into cap room would not be difficult (although not a cinch until he agrees) by training camp. It is simply the way to massage your money to make it work through the offseason.
The real way to blow through your money is to pay someone else for their OLB. That is not available for 1-year and would require a massive amount of cash outlay to make happen. It just isn't practical with so many other spots on your field that are real sore thumbs.
So, again, the money doesn't kill you. The player is in the upper half of your defensive starters (5th best at the very worst) and he is the right age. It doesn't prevent you from addressing the other spots that need addressing on the OL, DL, and secondary. I am not saying it is the move to build your season around, but, to me, it is a simple brick in the wall and many moves need to follow it.
Remember, it is a team game. You cannot change out 16 starters every year. You upgrade your weak links until the ensemble forms a workable unit. That is the goal for the Cowboys this spring. And Spencer can be part of that plan.