The team announced the move Monday and Spencer's agent, Jordan Woy, wrote in a tweet that negotiations on a long-term contract would continue for the Cowboys' 2012 sacks leader; Spencer had a career-high 11.
The Cowboys released safety Gerald Sensabaugh to clear $1.4 million under the salary cap and have dumped more than $20 million in cap money in the past week by reworking contracts with several veterans.
Dallas, which was penalized $5 million off its cap in both 2012 and 2013, could clear more space by releasing other players or reworking more deals, including that of quarterback Tony Romo.
The franchise tag for Spencer comes with the Cowboys switching from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3, which likely will mean a move to defensive end for Spencer after six years at outside linebacker.
The labor deal reached in 2011 specifies that players must be tagged under their primary position the previous season. Spencer is getting the non-exclusive tag, which puts his 2013 salary designation at $9.6 million if he doesn't sign a long-term contract. He made $8.8 million with a one-year tender last season.
With the non-exclusive tag, teams have the right to match any offer sheet, or get two first-round draft picks in return for allowing a player to leave.
Spencer's previous career high in sacks was six, reached twice. He appeared in all 16 games for three straight seasons from 2009-2011 before missing two games early last season with a strained pectoral muscle. He also had a career-high 55 tackles.
Sensabaugh signed as a free agent in 2009 and was a solid if not spectacular presence in the secondary. He missed two games in four years and led the team with a career-high five interceptions in 2010. He didn't pick off a pass last season and had 40 tackles, his lowest total in five years.
Dallas also released cornerback Vince Agnew and linebacker Brashton Satele.
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