IRVING -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer has millions of reasons to rebound from last season. He is in the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him $1.9 million this season.
This season will help determine Spencer's market value in the off-season, if the Cowboys don't re-sign him before then. And the Cowboys aren't likely to re-sign him before then if he doesn't have a good season.
The Cowboys have had no discussions with Spencer's agent about a contract extension, according to a source.
"I know I've got to play well," Spencer said of his future. "Just play well. That's all. I don't worry about anything else. I just have to play well."
His future is now.
Spencer had a career-high 105 tackles and contributed five sacks last season, but he forced only one turnover and had only 14 quarterback pressures after having 36 in 2009. According to STATS, Inc., he tied for 55th in the league with 17 quarterback knockdowns and hurries.
He and cornerback Mike Jenkins each were singled out -- fairly or not -- as big reasons the Cowboys' defense finished last season as the worst in team history.
Spencer didn't help himself last month when he admitted to ESPN.com that he mailed it in at times last season. His comments were condemned by NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp, but Spencer said he was misunderstood.
"I said it more towards the practice," Spencer said. "I wasn't going about practice the right way. I wasn't looking at the film and the things that they were doing that was going to be happening in the game and carrying it over to practice. I was just more going up against the scout team guy. I wasn't really working on the things I needed to get done that week."
He said he has figured it out, and not only is he practicing like it, but he is playing like it.
Playing opposite DeMarcus Ware, Spencer is tied for 21st in quarterback knockdowns (five) and hurries (three) with eight. He has 17 tackles, three sacks, six pressures and two forced fumbles. He has given up two receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown, according to STATS, Inc.
"He is having an impact on our defense as a run defender and pass rusher, providing quarterback pressure and making plays in the game that impact the game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "DeMarcus Ware and some of the other guys in the front seven are getting a lot of attention and rightfully so. When you have a guy like Spencer playing as well as he has the first four weeks of the season, that makes it hard on opposing offenses. He has to keep it going, and there's no reason to think that he won't."
Spencer's impact was most felt during the game against Washington. He had a sack/forced fumble against Rex Grossman with 28 seconds remaining, with linebacker Sean Lee's recovery icing the Cowboys' 18-16 victory.
"Whenever I get a sack -- it just happened to be at the end of the game -- it does something for your confidence," Spencer said. "...There's always stuff you could get better at. There's always going be that. But I am playing pretty well right now."
Spencer has a new tattoo across his chest. It reads: EM EWO UOY. It is YOU OWE ME spelled backward. He got it as a reminder to himself.
"Every time I look in the mirror, I see it," Spencer said. "That's why I got it there."