The New Orleans Saints have added some much-needed veteran depth along their defensive front by agreeing to terms with LB/DE Anthony Spencer on a one-year contract. Spencer, 31, spent the first eight seasons of his pro career with the Dallas Cowboys, who selected him 26th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Once considered among the league's best pass rushers, Spencer's career has been hit by knee issues over the last two seasons. After racking up 32.5 sacks through his first six seasons, including a career best 11 in 2012, Spencer was forced to undergo microfracture surgery on a knee complaint that limited him to just one appearance in 2013. The 31-year-old spent most of 2014 trying to shake off the lingering rust, but still registered as an effective run stopper capable of setting the edge and providing pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Ironically, Spencer made his 2014 bow against New Orleans, registering 3 tackles and a quarterback hit in the Cowboys' 38-17 win in week 4.
Spencer's move to New Orleans will reunite him with former Cowboys' defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who holds the same position with the Saints. Ryan oversaw the Cowboys' defense from 2011-2012, which were, coincidentally, two of Spencer's most productive years. He reached the Pro Bowl in 2012 after tallying 55 tackles to accompany his career-high 11 sacks.
For much of his tenure in Big D, Spencer teamed with DeMarcus Ware to form one of football's most dangerous pass rushing duos. Now with New Orleans, the Purdue alum will join a front seven which includes the likes of Cameron Jordan, Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins, Parys Haralson and Junior Galette. Spencer could provide an effective complement for a player like Galette, who excels as a pass rusher, but struggles against the run. Spencer has always performed admirably against the run, and continues to do so. His sack numbers are down, but he was able to generate consistent pressure despite limited snaps last season.
Spencer also has a history of coming up with timely takeaways. New Orleans is looking to produce more turnovers, something that they have struggled to do consistently over the last four seasons. For his career, Spencer has produced 13 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, and 1 defensive touchdown in addition to his 33 sacks. Ryan, who likes to mix and match his alignments and fronts, can utilize a healthy Spencer in a multitude of fashions. Whether he is aligned as an end in a 4-3 or a 4-2-5, or as an outside 'backer in Ryan's preferred 3-4 scheme, Spencer still has the skill set to perform as a versatile weapon capable of stopping the run and getting after the opposing quarterback.
Given his recent injury issues and subsequent dip in production, it is no surprise to see Spencer accept a short-term deal with, perhaps, an eye on proving he is finally over the knee problem which has limited him to just 14 games over the last two years. Additionally, he is likely heading to New Orleans at a reduced rate, which is great business for a team that has held one of the league's most precarious cap situations in recent years. New Orleans has made a bevy of cost-cutting moves this offseason, but Spencer's signing could turn out to be a low-risk, high-reward move for general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton. Spencer could also, in essence, maximize his own market value with an eye on 2016 free agency if he stays healthy and shows flashes of his former Pro Bowl self.
Two years and one microfracture surgery later, Anthony Spencer may never return to his aforementioned 2012 Pro Bowl form, but he is still a player that can help a team like the New Orleans Saints. After a dismal 2014 campaign in which they struggled to pressure the quarterback, stop the run, and force turnovers, the Saints need players of Spencer's ilk. The reduced price tag, veteran experience and leadership he brings to the table further enhance Spencer's value to the Saints, who are looking to get back to the physical, aggressive brand of defense which helped them win a playoff game in 2013.