According to his agent Jordan Woy, Anthony Spencer and the Cowboys have broken off discussions and he can play the season out on his franchise tag rather than signing a long term contract with the team. While I would not say anything is finished until July 15, the last day a Franchise player may sign a multi-year contract extension, this likely provides another big blow in the poor cap management and planning exhibited by the Dallas Cowboys.
Rather than extending Spencer in 2012, the Cowboys tagged him leading to an above market price tag this season of $10.627 million. Spencer had a far better 2012 than he had 2011 and gained significant leverage over the cap strapped Cowboys in 2013. Though the Cowboys likely could not have anticipated the market correction on pass rushers, the decision to tag Spencer even at the increased price only increased his leverage. Spencer wisely ran and signed his tender before the Cowboys could rescind the offer and never needed to go and test the “free agent” waters to see what he was worth.
He has a better chance of making more money next season if he has a second stellar year, either with Dallas or someone else. If the Cowboys tag him again they will guarantee him a minimum of $15.3 million and a maximum of the QB franchise tag value. That would mean a 3 year payout of $34.8 million from 2012-2014 for Spencer, which is more than Clay Matthews received on his recent contract extension. Had they extended Spencer in 2012 they probably would have gotten him for closer to $26 million and significant cap relief.
This shows the danger for a team going the franchise tag route. With the exception of maybe a Kicker, whose tag carries such a low value, the franchise tag should only be used once on a player either as a tactic to force a long term extension and more or less ban a player from free agency or as a one year rental before you break the team up. Getting into multiple tags on one player simply makes the price higher than the market and doesn’t even allow a team to use prorations to mitigate the salary cap charges. By the time its said and done Dallas will end up paying at least $19.5 million for Spencer in cash and cap and then watch Spencer earn a three year payout from themselves or another team close to what he would have received in 2012 had the team worked out an extension. It’s like leasing a car with the intent to purchase and in the end paying a higher than necessary price on a used car when the lease expires.
With nearly $11 million tied up in Spencer the Cowboys are left with about $9 million in cap space in 2013. The team would also want to extend LB Sean Lee, but any deal done with Lee would take away cap space in 2013. Extending Spencer would have helped create the cushion it needed for Lee. Dallas already has over $140 million in cap commitments next year and will have to get creative to keep these players on the team in the future, a situation that could have been mitigated by extending the player earlier before going the multi-franchise tag route.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.