Taylor Williams

Jerry Jones Made The Smart Move Not Paying Anthony Spencer

Created on Jul. 01, 2013 9:40 AM EST

The contract talks between the Cowboys and DE Anthony Spencer were apparently derailed by money, but the argument on whether or not he deserves a long-term deal is anything but simple.

The prevailing opinion is Dallas made a smart move. The deal wasn’t gelling from a business standpoint, so better to suspend it than force it. Spencer, an unrestricted free agent in 2014 who is guaranteed $10.6 million in 2013 after an 11-sack, breakout season, has yet to prove his consistency as a pure pass rushing threat. A first-round pick in 2007, Spencer didn’t become a starter or earn the title of undisputed No. 2 pass rusher — behind DeMarcus Ware — for five seasons.

The timing sucks, too. By nature, a breakout season imprints a player on his opponents’ radar; Spencer is a recognized X-factor who’s going to be assigned stronger and more seasoned blockers this year. With the arrival of the 4-3, the Cowboys need him to be a straight destroyer of quarterbacks this year. And unlike in years past, teams are actually going to prepare for and treat him that way.

But the case for Spencer is hardly that clear-cut; here’s why.

Spencer’s pass rushing stats, like sacks and pressures, must be evaluated against the number of plays in which he was actually supposed to rush the passer. Those numbers, which predicate the case for not extending him, were accrued as an outside linebacker who also had pass coverage and run defense responsibilities. Using his strength to plug a running lane or disrupt a tight end’s route are the kinds of valuable contributions Spencer made; the kind that get swept under the mat when the lawyers and calculators come out.

Furthermore, the Cowboys pass rush is their biggest defensive advantage — the unit’s only proven commodity year in and year out. While there’s talent sprinkled evenly throughout, defensive end is the only position boasting both quality experience and promising depth. That’s a rare combination for a single position in the NFL, and Dallas should care about maintaining it while their franchise cornerbacks and linebackers develop. But that can’t happen without Spencer.

OK, so maybe when you factor in the kind of money the 29-year-old Spencer wants, one case is a little stronger than the other. But this decision isn’t so much prudent as it is cautious. The Cowboys have clearly never viewed Spencer as a deterrent to their defense, or they’d have released or traded him. They just have to be absolutely sure 2012 wasn’t a one-year wonder, since it exemplified the kind of production they badly need from him this year.

Assuming Spencer has another good year and contributes to it, then the best-case scenario for the team — winning the division and making some sort of playoff run — is the best-case scenario for Spencer. He proves his value to the Cowboys, and they prove theirs to him by showing they can win. That tends to make players a little more agreeable about their money. Dallas keeps him at a more affordable price, and Spencer maximizes his production toward his career’s end by working in a system he’s already comfortable with.

Negotiations have been suspended, though there’s still plenty of common ground to work with. But like most things football in Dallas, a winning season and postseason run are the key ingredients to making it happen in a way that satisfies both sides.

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