A little over a week ago at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, owner Jerry Jones offered several reasons why the Dallas Cowboys couldn't keep free agent linebacker Anthony Spencer.
He said Spencer's asking price would likely be too high. He said Spencer might be too small to play defensive end in the 4-3 defense. He said it might be more prudent to use the money elsewhere considering that the two most important players in Monte Kiffin's defense were the rush end and the three-technique defensive tackle. He also said the defense has better players now than when they put the franchise tag on Spencer last season.
In the end, however, the Cowboys decided that Spencer was too good and too valuable for them to just let walk away.
The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the second consecutive year, guaranteeing him a $10.6 million contract for next season, just a couple of hours before the deadline.
Spencer's agent, Jordan Woy, said his client has no problem with the move, even though it keeps him off the free-agent market for the second straight year.
“He wants to stay in Dallas,” Woy said. “He just wants a long-term deal.”
To help create cap room for Spencer's deal, the Cowboys released three players, cornerback Vince Agnew, linebacker Brashton Satele and safety Gerald Sensaugh, a starter who was slated to earn $3 million next season.
Sensabaugh announced the move on Twitter: "Been informed I'm being released for cap purposes... had a great run #CowboysNation I appreciate the organization and my teammates."
Cutting Sensabaugh saves the Cowboys $1.4 million.
The Cowboys still have to make some more moves to get back under the salary cap of $123 million before March 12. Guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings, defensive Jay Ratliff and cornerback Orlando Scandrick have already agreed to restructure their deals if necessary.
Tagging Spencer was important for the Cowboys. They will either have the services of their best defender from a year ago or they have the flexibility of trading him for possible draft picks. A franchise tag draws two first-round picks as compensation though team’s can negotiate for less.
Spencer led the Cowboys with 106 tackles and had a career-high 11 sacks. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time, albeit as an injury replacement.
Spencer even took over play-calling duties on defense following season-ending injuries to linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.
He will be asked to move to defensive end in the Kiffin's new defense. Although he might be a little undersized to play there at 254 pounds, he is not unfamiliar with the position. Spencer played defensive end in college at Purdue and was moved to outside linebacker after joining the Cowboys as a first round pick in 2007.
Spencer is not going to fight with the Cowboys over being franchise tagged as a linebacker rather than a defensive end, even though the designation costs him roughly $600,000 dollars.
The franchise tender for defensive ends is $11.75 million. He was guaranteed $10.6 million when the Cowboys placed the linebacker franchise tag on him Monday.
The situation is only an issue because Spencer played linebacker last year, but will be moved to defensive end in 2014 when the Cowboys switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3.
NFL rules stipulate that the designation goes with the position the player played last season.
Woy has no problem with that. But his goal is to not play under the franchise tag. He said he will negotiate a long-term deal with the Cowboys with defensive end numbers in mind.
"They have the right to franchise as a linebacker," Woy said. "But he will be a defensive end. It would be fair to look at contracts of players that play that position."
Woy said negotiations for a long-term deal are just beginning. The two sides have until mid-July to negotiate a long-term deal.
The Cowboys won’t be tagging Spencer for a third-straight year. To do so in 2014 would cost a whopping $15.2 million.
The move with Sensabaugh means the Cowboys will have to target a safety in the draft or free agency. The two holdovers with the most promise in Barry Church and Matt Johnson are coming off injuries.
Sensabugh played four years for the Cowboys, starting all but two games. However, he had only eight interceptions, including none last season.