Heading into the season, Anthony Spencer made no secret of his plan to have a big season heading into free agency.
Coming off a poor 2010, Spencer decided he'd let everyone know that he was going to actually try his hardest this season instead of taking days off in practice as in years past. The results of this groundbreaking approach have been pretty good for both Spencer and the Cowboys, as evidenced by the day he turned in against the Dolphins.
Spencer made Marc Colombo's homecoming a nightmare. He had eight tackles, provided steady pass rush and blew up a pair of screen plays in the backfield. Spencer hasn't been quite so prolific in every game this season, but the performance was pretty close to the standard he's set for himself.
He's done a fine job of setting the edge against the run, keeping plays from busting outside and stepping up to make tackles when they present themselves. With DeMarcus Ware on the other side, teams usually leave Spencer against a single blocker and he's able to use that to his advantage and provide pressure on the quarterback. The Cowboys don't send both of them at the same time all that often, which is something they should look at doing more, and Spencer isn't a liability in pass coverage if he isn't called on to rush the pocket.
In short, he's the perfect player to have playing opposite Ware because his versatility means you can use him every down to play a variety of roles. We knew Spencer was capable of this kind of effort after the 2009 season, but last year's struggles certainly made you wonder if it was something he was going to do regularly enough to fulfill his potential.
The question now will become whether or not the Cowboys can keep him as a free agent. Franchising him isn't an option because the average of the top five outside backers would be way too high a salary for Spencer. There aren't many free agents to deal with on the roster, but there are always needs that need filling (inside linebacker, secondary and offensive line come to mind) and a finite amount of money to use to fill them.
So Spencer might well find a suitor who is willing to pay him more than the Cowboys can muster. Even though he's a complementary player, he's a good enough complementary player that any team running a base 3-4 scheme could benefit from what he provides to a defense.
All that is for the future. Whether he stays in Dallas or leaves, Spencer's going to get paid because he's playing the best ball of his career at exactly the right time. For now, just enjoy that and worry about next year when next year actually gets here.
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