Spencer: Franchise tag 'good and bad'

The Dallas Cowboys haven't made it official yet, but the sense is that they will designate outside linebacker Anthony Spencer as their franchise player today. That's the sense Spencer has, at least, according to what he told The Dallas Morning News:

Anthony Spencer has mixed emotions over what will happen Monday afternoon.

The outside linebacker wants to stay with the Cowboys. But he'd prefer to do so with a long-term contract rather than the franchise tag the club is expected to use to prevent him from hitting the open market.

"It looks like they are going to put the tag on me,'' Spencer said. "That's a good thing and a bad thing.

"It's good because it shows how much they think of me. But you don't want to be playing on a one-year contract. You want a longer deal and the security that gives your family.

"But hey, I understand. It's a business.''

As David Moore points out in his story, the Cowboys have only used the franchise player designation twice under Jerry Jones, and both times they agreed with the player on a long-term deal before the start of that season. It's certainly possible they will do the same with Spencer. Heck, it's possible they'll do that with Spencer today, before the franchise deadline. But Spencer's an interesting and somewhat unique case, and it's not an open-and-shut deal for the Cowboys to lock him up long term.

Spencer is good against the run and in pass coverage, but he's not the pass-rusher the Cowboys would like to have at the outside linebacker spot opposite DeMarcus Ware. The man playing in that spot should be able to get to quarterbacks -- especially given the extra attention Ware draws from blockers. But Spencer is a disappointment as a pass-rusher, and his sack numbers aren't what the Cowboys hoped they would be at this point in his career.

Nonetheless, unless they're going to get into the Mario Williams market -- a market that's likely to result in Williams being the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history -- there are very few options at pass-rusher for the Cowboys in free agency, and it's hard to find one who'd represent a clear upgrade over Spencer. They could cut him loose and take their chances that they can find a pass-rusher in the draft or turn up a discarded potential gem the way the Jets did last year with Aaron Maybin. But they appear to have decided to hedge their bets and hold onto Spencer.

The question is: For how long? Locking up Spencer would seem to be equivalent to rewarding mediocrity, as several of our ESPNDallas.com writers have pointed out. Franchising him and letting him have one more year to bring the sack numbers up isn't a bad idea on its face, but it's going to cost them $8.8 million guaranteed to do that, and unless they do a long-term deal that lowers his 2012 number, that could hurt them against the cap as they hunt for the cornerbacks, safeties and guards they need.

It's a thorny situation, but it appears as though the Cowboys have decided the good with Spencer outweighs the disappointment, especially in light of other options. It's a tough business decision, and it's not likely to play well with the fans, but franchising Spencer right now is the right thing to do.