Eight in the Box: Must-keep free agents

Welcome to “Eight in the Box,” a new NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: Which free agent is essential for each team to keep from its 2012 roster?

Dallas Cowboys: Linebacker/defensive end Anthony Spencer. He is especially important because Dallas is switching to a 4-3 defense. If the Cowboys lose Spencer, finding a pass-rushing defensive end becomes their top priority, and that won't be easy. The Cowboys' cap issues give them little hope of outbidding anyone for Spencer, but they're going to have to try.

New York Giants: Left tackle Will Beatty. Protecting quarterback Eli Manning is the top priority, and Beatty emerged in 2012 as a top left tackle. I considered wide receiver Victor Cruz here, but he's restricted, so they can tender him and still get by. If they lose Beatty, they'll need to hunt for a new left tackle. That's no fun.

Philadelphia Eagles: Safety Colt Anderson. The Eagles have only eight free agents, and the seven unrestricted guys are either dead weight or non-essential. Argue cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if you like, but is he a "must-keep?" Anderson is a special-teams ace and a decent backup safety.

Washington Redskins: Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Another Pro Bowl-caliber special-teamer, Alexander is a valuable utility man and a heart-and-soul guy on the field and in the locker room. Fullback Darrel Young and tight end Fred Davis also were considered here. The Redskins have some tough decisions.