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Dallas Cowboys Shouldn't Bother with Jason Hatcher, Anthony Spencer

FILE - In this file photo from Aug. 29, 2013, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer, left, defensive end Jason Hatcher, center, and DeMarcus Ware (94) talk before a preseason NFL football game in Arlington, Texas. Spencer still hasn't returned from a left knee injury that kept him out all of training camp and is listed as doubtful for the season opener against the New York Giants. He missed the last full practice Friday, Sept. 6 before Sunday night's game. He aggravated an injury from offseason workouts in the pre-camp conditioning test and had arthroscopic surgery July 25. Spencer said he had swelling in the knee this week. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, file)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

The Dallas Cowboys have indicated that they want starting defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer back, according to Jordan Woy, who represents both veterans. That's what Woy told ESPN's Todd Archer at the combine, and it makes sense on the surface. 

But bringing either back individually, let alone both, just doesn't add up. 

The Cowboys are projected to be about $19 million over the salary cap, according to Spotrac, which means they have a lot of cutting to do. Unless they get some mega hometown discounts, it would be practically impossible to somehow add contracts for Hatcher and Spencer, both of whom should receive some interest if or when they become unrestricted free agents on March 11. 

Tightest salary cap situations
Salary cap space
1. Dallas Cowboys- $19 million
2. Pittsburgh Steelers- $7 million
3. San Diego Chargers+ $3 million
4. St. Louis Rams+ $6 million
Spotrac

Hatcher is about to turn 32 and is coming off a career year, picking up 11 sacks and earning a Pro Bowl berth. That's salary-cap suicide. Not only will he earn a solid contract after performing so well in 2013, but it won't likely be a long-term deal because of his age. Short-term deals make it much more difficult to stash high cap numbers later in future seasons, which means Hatcher would cost a pretty penny. 

"He'd like to play there," said Woy, "but hey, it's free agency and it's going to come down to the contract."

The last top-flight 4-3 defensive tackle to land a big deal was Geno Atkins, who re-signed with Cincinnati for over $10 million a year prior to the 2013 season. Atkins is younger and better, but a guy like Hatcher will fetch at least half of that. He's a much better player than Sen'Derrick Marks, who just signed an extension worth $4.5 million per season in Jacksonville

Even if they get crafty, I can't see the Cowboys giving that kind of money to Hatcher

Spencer is a very different case, but the predicament is similar. He's coming off of microfracture surgery on his knee after playing only 34 snaps in 2013, but his 2012 campaign was his best yet. He might be more affordable because of that injury, but that also means a long-term deal would be risky. 

Spencer is also on the wrong side of 30, so it's probably not worth it to sign him to a short-term deal that can't be back-loaded. 

It might be time for Dallas to give Tyrone Crawford a shot.
It might be time for Dallas to give Tyrone Crawford a shot.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

You've got Tyrone Crawford, whom you spent a third-round pick on in 2012 and can play anywhere on the line. And you've got arguably the deepest draft in a decade. Time to move forward and forget about players who are going to hurt the bank balance both in the short and long term. 

It's been floated out there that the Cowboys would be smart to release DeMarcus Ware, saving about $7.4 million against the cap, which would enable them to get both Hatcher and Spencer under contract. That is undoubtedly intriguing, because Ware is just as old and is fading quickly, and the Hatcher/Spencer combo is probably more valuable than Ware on his own.

Still, the Cowboys could probably do better things with that money, investing it in younger players with higher upsides or saving it in order to avoid similar cap conundrums in upcoming offseasons. At this stage, Ware, Hatcher and Spencer just aren't worth it. 

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