Cowboys hope to keep Anthony Spencer

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Spencer is ticketed for free agency after playing the 2012 season out under the franchise tag. The Cowboys hope to keep Spencer, but Dallas' cap troubles could preclude Spencer from staying.

Despite moving to a 4-3 scheme this season, the Dallas Cowboys will attempt to re-sign Anthony Spencer, who served as one of Dallas' outside linebackers under Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense. According to NFL.com, the Cowboys, despite the scheme switch, remain Spencer's first choice in free agency.

Spencer recorded a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 -- nearly doubling his previous career high of six. Spencer also set a career high in tackles with 95, forced two fumbles and had a fumble recovery in 2012.

From Spencer's perspective, his career-year couldn't have come at a better time. Spencer played out the 2012 season under the franchise tag, making it far too expensive for the Cowboys to franchise Spencer again in 2013. Consequently, Spencer is in line for a big payday this offseason.

Blogging the Boys: Spencer can play in a 4-3

Though the Cowboys hope to keep Spencer and want him to stick around next season and beyond, it'll be difficult for the Cowboys to do so.

Currently, the Cowboys are $20 million over the salary cap, but should be able to clear necessary space with a string of cuts. Dallas also wants to extend Tony Romo's contract, which could reduce his 2013 cap number, and Brandon Carr's contract could also end up being restructured.

Still, the Cowboys don't have a ton of money to work with this offseason. If Stephen and Jerry Jones retain Spencer, that could end up being Dallas' only major move this offseason -- forcing the Cowboys to ignore other team needs this offseason, notably, their offensive line.

If the Cowboys do end up letting Spencer go, Spencer might not have to move too far. The New Orleans Saints recently hired Rob Ryan to be their new defensive coordinator, and Spencer has already proven he can succeed in Ryan's system.

New Orleans, too, has cap troubles like Dallas, and would have to release a few players in order to get under the cap, and then sign Spencer, crippling other potential moves for the Saints -- the same exact problem the Cowboys face.

Spencer should have no shortage of suitors, rating as Pro Football Focus' top edge defender in this year's free agent class.

If Spencer does leave, the Cowboys will need to add a pass rusher to the top of the priority list this offseason, to go along with offensive line help.

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