The uncapped year in the NFL has put a few players in unique situations as we head towards training camp. Patrick Crayton, Marcus Spears, and Sam Hurd are still unsure of their futures. The extension on the years of service required to earn free agency has allowed to Cowboys to essentially low ball Marcus Spears. Patrick Crayton is feeling the effects because the Cowboys can afford to keep him as an insurance policy even with his $2 million base salary and Dez Bryant now ahead of him on the depth chart. Sam Hurd is in a similar situation to Crayton with Dez on the roster and also had no way out of Dallas since he was limited by his restricted free agency status.
Marcus Spears probably was insulted early on when the Cowboys tendered him at a lower salary than both of his back ups at defensive end. You can't blame the guy for being a little irritated by the way things played out. But he has had a great attitude about the situation. The NFL is a business after all and you can't blame the Cowboys for taking the frugal approach when the rules allow for it. I respect Marcus Spears for going about his business like a true professional even while the money on the table is somewhat insulting. But he understood what a lot of us regular Joes understand...$1.226 million dollars for playing football is nothing to complain about. Not many people are going to join in if you throw a pity party for yourself with money like that coming to you.
The bottom line for Marcus Spears is that he is a victim of the unsettled situation between the players and owners. He is a starting quality player but he isn't so good that the Cowboys feel like they can't win without him. The result is a low salary, one year offer. Spears is a very good run defender. Pass rush from DE's in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme is hard to judge. No DE in the Cowboys defense will put up big sack numbers as long as they stick with the current defense.
So Spears will probably end up starting if he can fend off Bowen and Hatcher in training camp. He'll be the starter and be paid less than his backups. It is obviously an unfair situation but if he plays another year at a high level he might get more money somewhere else next year. Fortunately for all of the fans of the Cowboys it looks like Spears is more concerned with winning than he is with money.
Patrick Crayton's situation is different. He entered the offseason as the #3 receiver even though he was more productive with fewer opportunities than last years #2 receiver, Roy Williams. Crayton is a solid pro. He runs excellent routes, has great chemistry with Tony Romo, and he does a good job fielding punts. He lacks the explosiveness of a top tier receiver or returner but he plays above his natural ability with good fundamentals.
Crayton finally showed up to work with the team last week and seems to have finally accepted the reality of his situation. While he has made public comments that implied he wanted out of Dallas he didn't really have any leverage to work with. The Cowboys want Crayton on the team to provide depth and experience and there is very little trade value for a 31-year-old, average at best receiver. So Crayton also appears stuck in Dallas at least until the Cowboys decide whether they want to keep him for another season. I do understand Crayton's complaints about getting his family settled if he on his way. But the millions of dollars he has made more than make up for the inconvenience of dealing with any uncertainty he might face if released.
Sam Hurd is hanging on by a thin thread. If Crayton stays that puts the number of quality receivers ahead of Hurd at 5 if you put Kevin Ogletree in that mix. But Hurd is taking the professional approach that Spears is taking. Hurd is going to work hard and try to win is roster spot. The odds are stacked against him but he is a lot younger than Crayton so he might be able to stay if he can stay healthy. Hurd is 5 years younger than Crayton and he has kept his mouth shut about his situation. Jerry Jones has shown over the last few years that he isn't going to let malcontents hang around to poison his locker room.
You have to feel a little sympathy for all three of these guys. They have all worked hard and contributed to the success of the team over the last few years. And none of them are at the point in their careers where their skills are eroding. But the NFL is a business and it is a young man's game. The labor dispute and the young talent on the roster are going to keep Spears, Crayton, and Hurd in limbo until the end of training camp.