A stalwart of the Miami Dolphins' defense, Karlos Dansby signed a five-year, $43 million contract with Miami prior to the 2010 season. That contract amounted to the richest contract any inside linebacker had signed in NFL history—until Patrick Willis struck his $50 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers only a month later.
A mere two seasons later, Dansby has found himself released by a Dolphins franchise that is undergoing a dramatic change in the linebacker corps, including the jettisoning of fellow starting linebacker Kevin Burnett and the additions of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler.
Dansby's release by Miami must have come as a shock to the veteran, as he was coming off a career-high 134 tackles in 2012. It's a testament to the value of linebackers in the NFL today that a player like Dansby can become a cap casualty and then generate little interest on the open market after such a high tackle tally and a top-15 rating of all inside linebackers by Pro Football Focus (membership required).
Dansby is no stranger to the Arizona Cardinals, who drafted the Auburn product in the second round of the 2004 NFL draft. In six seasons with Arizona, Dansby registered 82 starts and averaged 74 tackles, four sacks, almost two forced fumbles and two picks per season. These numbers alone may not have justified a hefty contract, but Miami ponied up anyway, and Dansby joined the Dolphins in 2010 rather than return to the Cardinals.
Digging deeper, it seems the Cardinals are getting a bit more than simply a tackling machine at linebacker to make up for the early season loss of starter Daryl Washington. Dansby may have tallied only six sacks in his three seasons as a Dolphin, but he's also been a league leader among inside linebackers in quarterback hurries—eight in 2012 (sixth), 12 in 2011 (fifth) and seven in 2010 (12th). Dansby has only committed one penalty in the last three seasons and nine missed tackles in 2012—compared to 19 by fellow free-agent signing Jasper Brinkley.
In fact, Washington has more missed tackles than Dansby since the 2010 draftee replaced Dansby after he departed for Miami. Washington has 36 missed tackles and 268 solo tackles compared to Dansby's 25 missed tackles and 263 solo tackles, in addition to a comparable number of stops in 2012—that is to make a solo tackle deemed an offensive failure.
Dansby will turn 32 this upcoming season, but clearly he's still got some gas left in the tank after last year's monster season. A one-year contract allows the Cardinals to successfully replace Washington while he serves his current four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy (and possibly longer suspension after multiple arrests). The pairing of Dansby and Washington could create a lethal duo at the inside linebacker spots upon the latter's return, and you'll have a veteran linebacker to mentor rookie Kevin Minter.
All advanced stats via Pro Football Focus.
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