Cowboys might place franchise tag on Anthony Spencer

The Dallas Cowboys might not be finished with free agent linebacker Anthony Spencer.

Spencer is a candidate for the franchise tag, giving him a one-year deal of about $8.8 million, according to a team source.

Free agency begins March 13.

Spencer has largely been a disappointment since joining the Cowboys as a first-round pick in 2007. He has never had more than six sacks in a season and has yet to provide a consistent force opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Ware.

He is solid against the run and was fourth on the Cowboys with 74 tackles in 2011. He led the team in forced fumbles with four and tied for the team lead in tackles for losses with eight.

Spencer had 31 quarterback pressures, second behind Ware's 40.

What doesn't translate are the six sacks to 19.5 for Ware.

The key to a potential franchise decision on Spencer is finding a replacement for him.

There are few options on the free-agent market, the best being Houston's Mario Williams. He is likely the top free agent on the market and will command a hefty price.

He would be a huge financial risk for the Cowboys considering his limited experience in the 3-4 alignment -- especially at strongside outside linebacker, which is Spencer's spot.

Another option is Indianapolis defensive end Robert Mathis, who could potentially make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Again, he has never played the position and he is 31 years old compared with the 28-year-old Spencer.

If the Cowboys don't find a replacement in free agency and don't sign Spencer, they box themselves into possibly making a bad decision in the draft by forcing them to pick for need.

The Cowboys have made no final decisions, but have discussed placing the franchise tag on Spencer.

Cowboys hire Baker

The Cowboys made official the hiring of Joe Baker on Monday.

He will be the assistant secondary coach, helping newly hired Jerome Henderson.

Baker spent the past three seasons as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has 16 years of NFL coaching experience and three years in college.

He and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett played together at Princeton. Baker was a receiver at Princeton from 1987-1990, catching passes from Garrett in 1987-88.

Baker and Henderson replace Brett Maxie and Dave Campo as secondary coaches. The contracts of Campo and Maxie expired after the 2011 season.

The Cowboys chose not to offer Campo an extension, and he took a job as the defensive coordinator at Kansas. Maxie left to become secondary coach with the Tennessee Titans.

Charean Williams contributed to this report.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


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