Cowboys can franchise Anthony Spencer today

Starting today, NFL teams can place franchise tags on their unrestricted free agents.

Of the Cowboys unrestricted free agents, outside linebacker Anthony Spencer can be tagged. If so, it would cost the Cowboys $10.6 million.

At this stage of the offseason, the Cowboys can't afford to franchise Spencer because they're more than $20 million over the salary cap. All NFL teams have until March 12 to get under the salary cap. There doesn't appear to be an immediate plan to franchise Spencer.

This offseason, the Cowboys have two long-term contracts that need to be worked out: Spencer's and Tony Romo's.

The Cowboys have to lower Romo's cap figure, a team-high $16.8 million, for the 2013 season. Team executive vice president Stephen Jones said most quarterbacks will have the highest cap figure on NFL teams, but given the Cowboys cap issues, it's important to lower Romo's numbers so the team can possibly sign free agents, including Spencer.

If the Cowboys don't lower Romo's cap number and allow him to finish the final year of his contract, the team will carry over $8.1 million in dead money after his deal voids following the 2013 season.

Spencer has emerged as one of the Cowboys' more important players after his career-high 11 sack season in 2012. With DeMarcus Ware nursing elbow and shoulder injuries, it was up to Spencer to carry the pass rush.

The Cowboys moving to a 4-3 defensive scheme under Monte Kiffin allows Spencer to become a defensive end. Spencer's agent, Jordan Woy, said his client is open to playing defensive end.

But if the Cowboys can't afford to franchise Spencer due to cap space and when to do it to get under the cap of $121 million, the team might not be able to afford to bring him back because he could command an average salary of $10 million to $12 million per season.

"Anthony Spencer represents everything we want to be about," Cowboys' team executive vice president Stephen Jones said last week. "He plays hard. His leadership is tremendous and then, on top of that, he's just a great football player. He obviously played in the Pro Bowl this year and it was well-deserved. I think he had his most productive year since he's been in the NFL and been a Cowboy. All that speaks well for Anthony."