IRVING -- Anthony Spencer isn't DeMarcus Ware. He doesn't have the sack numbers, the Pro Bowl berths or the All-Pro accolades.
Yet, the Cowboys will pay Spencer more in base pay than Ware this season.
Instead of allowing Spencer to hit the free-agent market, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on him. With no better option at strongside linebacker, the Cowboys will pay Spencer $8.8 million this season to continue to do what he does as a run-stopper and in coverage while hoping his sack numbers increase.
"I listen to all those radio shows on the way home, and when they're not dog-cussing me, they're dog-cussing him," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said after the rookie minicamp. "The bottom line is: He's a damn good football player. What we asked him to do, he did a great job with. So if we send him more this year [as a pass-rusher], that will be great. I know everybody just looks at the bottom line on sacks or wins, and I don't blame them. But as a coach, you appreciate a guy like Anthony Spencer because he does the right thing, and he plays hard; he forces fumbles; he still rushes the passer. ...I think he's going to have a great year."
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No matter what Spencer does, even though he plays a different outside linebacker position, he can't avoid comparisons to Ware.
Spencer, a first-round pick in 2007, has 21.5 sacks in his career. Ware has 80 in that same five-year period and 99.5 for his seven-year career.
"It's both a curse and a blessing," Spencer said of playing opposite Ware. "I wouldn't say it's a curse, but it has its benefits and its non-benefits being across from him, definitely."
The Cowboys defend Spencer, believing fans and media don't give him enough credit. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus points out that Spencer was fourth in the league in sacks (6), pressures (31) and hits (9) combined, though pressures and hits are unofficial stats. Spencer was fourth on the team in tackles with 74, and he led with four forced fumbles.
"DeMarcus is unique," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He's rare. He's the best at what he does in the world. It's important to understand that, and you try to evaluate your players independent of each other. Spence has some real strengths. He does some things better than DeMarcus does. You try to highlight his strengths. You try to help him with some of the things he doesn't do quite as well. But that's everybody on our football team what we're trying to do. I think it's unfair to try to compare players on the same team, from around the league, from eras. I just think you try your best to evaluate what the player is and try to help him become the best he can be."
The Cowboys franchised Spencer for things other than his sacks, but it says something that they haven't tried to sign him to a long-term deal. Spencer was their best option this season, but, for now, the Cowboys are keeping their options open for 2013. So just like last season, Spencer is in a contract year.
"It's the same thing all over again," said Spencer, who made $7.36 million in his first five seasons combined. "We just don't want to make a habit of it. That's all I'm feeling."