IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys officially placed the franchise tag on potential free-agent linebacker Anthony Spencer, guaranteeing him $8.8 million for next season.
He is the third player in team history to receive the franchise tag, joining safety Ken Hamlin and tackle Flozell Adams. In both cases, the team eventually worked out contract extensions.
That's what Spencer's agent, Roosevelt Barnes, hopes will happen. Barnes said he plans to continue to talk to the Cowboys about a long-term deal.
The deadline to sign the franchise tag is July 16. If the sides don't sign a deal by then, Spencer will play the season under the $8.8 million tag.
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Reaching a deal would certainly lower the salary-cap hit for the Cowboys, but at this point they are not that far along in the process and seemingly not ready to commit long-term to Spencer.
The Cowboys want Spencer back next season and had no choice but to apply the franchise tag to ensure his return.
He would get a big-money contract from another team if he got to free agency because it's a thin market for linebackers.
Now, the Cowboys have the right to match any offer he receives and would get two first-round picks in return if Spencer signed elsewhere.
The Cowboys also have no internal options to fill his role despite criticism that Spencer has not lived up to expectations since being picked in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Spencer has been a solid run stopper, but has not had more than six sacks in a season, thus falling short as a legitimate passing-rush threat opposite Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware.
But coach Jason Garrett on Monday night said Spencer has been consistently valuable.
"If you look at his total production, how he's affected quarterbacks, how he's affected games, tackles for loss, hurries, tackles, all of that stuff, he's really been a strong contributor to our football team," Garrett said.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seemingly set the stage for Spencer's return during the NFL Scouting Combine when he praised his play and blamed his poor sack numbers on how he was being used.
Jones said Spencer would have had more sacks if he was allowed to rush the passer more, which would be part of the team's game plan if he returns next season.
"He's your edge guy," Jones said. "He plays differently by design than Ware. Let's say he's a set-your-edge [player] and Ware is more free to go. Now the fact that Ware draws the chip, draws the block, the double team, then that should make Spencer have an edge.
"Let's not say Spencer, but name another top pass rusher in the league and if you had them at both ends, you would play them differently than we would Spencer. If we end up changing that, then you will see Spencer with better sack numbers, not necessarily at the expense of Ware, but just by doing it differently."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.