COMMENTARY| The Dallas Cowboys recently decided to use the franchise tag on defensive end Anthony Spencer, and in the process made him one of the highest paid defensive players in the NFL. Spencer's inconsistent play and high salary make him the most overrated player on Dallas' roster.
The Cowboys used their first round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft on Spencer. He was selected with the intent of providing a pass rush opposite of DeMarcus Ware.
During his six seasons with the Cowboys, Spencer has accumulated 32.5 sacks. That is an average of only 5.4 sacks per year.
He had a career year in 2012 when he racked up 11 sacks. That was second on the team behind Ware's 11.5 sacks. That also represents over 33 percent of his career sacks.
Ware is the best pass-rusher of his generation. Any decent pass-rusher playing on the opposite side of Ware should be able to put up good numbers on a yearly basis.
Spencer should have been able to capitalize when offenses focus on sliding their protection over to block Ware on every play. His inability to consistently create a pass rush from the other side of the line calls into question how he would do when asked to be a featured pass-rusher.
Although the Cowboys will likely never ask Spencer to be a featured pass-rusher, with his $10.8 million salary they are paying him like one. Spencer's 11 sacks in 2012 made him the fourteenth best pass rusher in the league for the season. His best year ever was not good enough to make him one of the top 10 pass-rushers in the league.
A Draft Miss
The Cowboys drafted Spencer to play outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. In the second round of the 2007 draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Lamarr Woodley to play outside linebacker in the same scheme.
Woodley has accumulated 52 career sacks during his career. He has almost 20 more career sacks than Spencer and is only going to be paid $9.1 million in 2013.
In the third round of the 2007 draft, the Carolina Panthers drafted defensive end Charles Johnson. He had 12.5 sacks in 2012 and has tallied 43 career sacks.
The Cowboys could have drafted a better player in a lower round and received more production. Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones' insistence on keeping Spencer for the 2013 season at a higher rate of pay calls into questions Jones' intentions.
Is he simply trying to make the Cowboys a better team? Or is it a case similar to former first round pick Felix Jones, where his ego does not allow him to admit that he was wrong and he keeps forcing him on the field?
Change In Scheme Could Hurt
Dallas is switching to a 4-3 defense in 2013 under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Spencer will move to defensive end for the first time in his NFL career.
In Kiffin's 4-3 defense he will still be expected to play the same 9-technique that he played as an outside linebacker. The difference is that Spencer will be more susceptible to double-teams as a defensive end in the 4-3.
In the 3-4 scheme Spencer had the luxury of having Marcus Spears lined up at defensive end next to him. In the Cowboys' new scheme, Spencer will often have to fight off double-teams from the opposing right tackle and tight end.
Spencer was an average pass-rusher in the 3-4 scheme. It is hard to imagine that he is going to improve when taking on an extra blocker in the Cowboys' new defense.
When it comes to defensive ends in the NFL, Spencer's play has been nothing more than average. His career has not justified his selection in the first round of the draft, nor his salary in 2013. Jones is compensating Spencer like an All-Pro player instead of the average defender that he is.
Spencer should have been allowed to leave the team in free agency. Jones overpaid to keep him instead of trying to get younger and better on the defensive line. These are the kinds of personnel decisions that keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs.
Michael Taglienti lives in Dallas, and has been covering all levels of football for five years. His articles have been featured on CNN and numerous other websites.
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