As expected, Cowboys franchise Spencer

Thanks to the excellent reporting of Calvin Watkins and the gang at ESPNDallas.com, we saw it coming. Anthony Spencer saw it coming, as we explained this morning. But it's official now, and the Dallas Cowboys have designated Spencer as their franchise player for 2012.

That means Spencer is guaranteed $8.8 million for 2012 and eligible for free agency again this time next year -- unless the Cowboys can come to agreement with him on a long-term deal in the meantime. It might benefit them to do so, since they could structure the contract so that they took less of a salary cap hit with Spencer this year. But extending Spencer isn't a slam-dunk. He's been a disappointment as a pass rusher even as he's played well against the run and in coverage.

The Cowboys also are likely to look for help for their pass rush in free agency and the draft. They could pick up an outside linebacker to compete with Spencer for playing time or to groom as his successor if they do only intend to keep him for a year. They could add pieces on the defensive line that would help with the pass rush while Spencer concentrates on the things at which he's better. It's a fluid situation, but the upshot is that the Cowboys looked at the market for pass rushers and decided that, if they lost Spencer, their options for replacing him were slim. The best pass rusher available, Houston's Mario Williams, is going to cost a fortune, and the free-agent market doesn't offer much behind him.