Paul Domowitch | Keep an eye on Cowboys' Spencer

Posted: September 07, 2007

WITH THE possible exception of Terrell Owens, Eagles fans generally don't pay much attention to players wearing a uniform color other than midnight green. But they will be following with great interest the NFL career of Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer, particularly on those two occasions each season when the teams do their home-and-home tango.

The Cowboys selected Spencer with the 26th pick in the April draft, a pick they obtained in a trade with the Eagles. The Birds have scoffed at the suggestion that they were nuts to make such a significant deal with an NFC East enemy. But if Spencer, who will be the Cowboys' season-opening starting left outside linebacker, sacks Donovan McNabb a couple times in their Nov. 4 meeting at Lincoln Financial Field, and the Cowboys end up winning that game, well, Andy Reid and Tom Heckert might want to run out and buy some noise-reducing headphones just in case.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones downplayed the deal between the division rivals when I spoke with him a few weeks ago. He was quick to mention that the last time he did a first-round tradeup with the Eagles, it blew up in his face.

That was 1997 when Jones and the Cowboys traded up from 25th to 22nd to grab LSU tight end David LaFleur. Jones thought LaFleur, a mammoth 6-7, 280-pounder with 4.7 speed, was going to revolutionize the tight end position. But he developed an arthritic spine and played just four seasons for Dallas, catching a total of 85 passes.

The Eagles laid an even bigger first-round egg with their pick that year, selecting defensive end Jon Harris at No. 25 because then-coach Ray Rhodes mistook him for the second coming of Too Tall Jones. Harris got a pink slip from the Birds after just two seasons.

The Eagles did strike gold with the 1998 third-round pick they got as part of that deal, however, taking a fellow by the name of Jeremiah Trotter.

"[Jeff] Lurie made a living off of me when I made the LaFleur deal with him,'' Jones said. "He definitely got the best of me. But it's never been a major concern of mine, trading within the division.''

Right after trading out of the first round in April (they gave Cleveland the 22nd pick, which the Browns used on quarterback Brady Quinn, in exchange for a first-round pick next year), the Cowboys started contacting teams about trading back in to get Spencer.

"I went into this draft thinking offense [in the first round],'' Jones said. "I was looking for some juice with that pick. But it wasn't there on offense as far as I was concerned. As the first round went along, [Spencer] was the best juice I could see on defense.

"We knew when we traded out [of the first round] that we might not be able to get back in and get him. We talked with several teams. Eventually, as other players got drafted and he stayed on the board, we got close enough to a deal [with the Eagles] that it started to make some sense.''

Jones gave the Eagles second-, third- and fifth-round selections for the 26th pick. The Eagles used the No. 2 on quarterback Kevin Kolb, the No. 3 on linebacker Stewart Bradley and the No. 5 on safety C.J. Gaddis, who was released.

Assuming Spencer pans out, Jones said the Cowboys will be able to focus on offense with their two first-round picks next year.

Around the league

* The Cowboys think Tony Romo is going to be a very good NFL quarterback, but they're still not sure. Which is why he still doesn't have a new contract. Romo looked like the second coming of Roger Staubach for a while last year after he replaced Drew Bledsoe as the starter. But then he cooled off. He threw just seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions in his last six starts, including the playoff loss to Seattle. Wasn't nearly as effective when teams were able to keep him in the pocket.

* The Cowboys think is going to be a very good NFL quarterback, but they're still not sure. Which is why he still doesn't have a new contract. Romo looked like the second coming of for a while last year after he replaced as the starter. But then he cooled off. He threw just seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions in his last six starts, including the playoff loss to Seattle. Wasn't nearly as effective when teams were able to keep him in the pocket.

"He's got those quarterback things,'' Jerry Jones said. "You get a sense from his demeanor that somehow, he gives you a chance to win the game. That's pretty big. However, what we want to do is for him to have an emphasis on protecting the ball. It's about him getting on the same page with his coaches about where you're going with the ball. The other stuff will come. The plays will come. He'll give us a chance to make a couple of those plays that can keep a drive alive. If he'll protect the ball, I think we have a good chance to get to see the pluses he brings to the game.''

* The Bucs have one of the league's more curious roster situations. They currently have four - count 'em, four - quarterbacks on their 53-man roster: starter Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Bruce Gradkowski and Chris Simms. The Bucs' brilliant general manager, Bruce Allen, gave Simms a 2-year, $14.5 million contract extension with almost $5 million in guarantees last December even though he still was recovering from a ruptured spleen and even though his coach, Jon Gruden, wasn't all that enamored with Simms. Simms took just six snaps in the preseason and was running No. 4 on the depth chart. Everyone expected him to be released, but cutdown day came and went and he still was with the team. There is some suspicion that the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs and is on the hoof for Simms' guaranteed millions, ordered Allen to keep Simms. Allen has been in hiding this week and wasn't talking to reporters, which is par for the course with him.

Gruden admitted carrying four quarterbacks is "unprecedented,'' but said he and Allen are "on the same page.'' To make room on their roster for the quarterback quartet, the Bucs had to cut wide receiver Mark Jones, who was expected to be their primary return specialist.

* According to Team Marketing Report, the average NFL ticket price has climbed to $67.11, a $4.50 increase over 2006. The Patriots own the league's highest average ticket price at $90.89. The Eagles, who didn't raise ticket prices this season, are 14th, with an average price of $69. The Cowboys' average ticket price soared 27.2 percent, to $84.12. They went from 16th in the league to sixth. Twenty-three of the league's 32 teams raised their ticket prices this year. The prize for most expensive hot dog in the league goes to the Rams at $8.00. The most expensive stadiums to pay for parking? New England and Chicago, who both gouge $40.

By the numbers

* The Chiefs got screwed by the NFL schedule maker. They play three of their first four games on the road and three of their last four on the road.

* The Chiefs got screwed by the NFL schedule maker. They play three of their first four games on the road and three of their last four on the road.

* Jeff Garcia will be the Bucs' eighth starting quarterback since Jon Gruden was hired as coach in 2002.

* Last year, NFL zebras called just 579 offensive holding penalties, compared to 880 in '05. False starts dropped from 852 to 725. The decreases weren't accidents. The league told the officials to stop calling ticky-tack holding and false-start penalties. Apparently the guy who called the false start on Scott Young in the Eagles' playoff loss to the Saints didn't get the memo. *

Send e-mail to pdomo@aol.com

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