This is the first in a series of scouting reports on 15 key players who are slated to become free agents — restricted or unrestricted — March 5, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: Few linebackers at the pro level are as naturally talented and versatile as Karlos Dansby, who signed with the the Dolphins late on the first full day of free agency. Dansby received the Cardinals' franchise tag each of the past two seasons, and the team had no intention of giving him that designation for a third straight year. If they were to go that route, Dansby would have been guaranteed a salary equal to the average of the five highest-paid players at the position with the highest average in 2009 (quarterbacks) — a figure that would come to a whopping $16.405 million. In any event, after seeing what former Cardinal Calvin Pace was able to fetch on the free-agent market a couple of offseasons ago from the Jets, Dansby was said to be looking for up to $30 million in guaranteed salary. With all of the Cardinals' other contract concerns, as well as the fact that Dansby registered only one sack, one interception and one forced fumble during the '09 regular season, it appeared the time had finally come to cut the cord with Dansby, who all but acknowledged his likely departure from the desert. In a recent local radio interview, while stressing that he doesn't have a specific wish list, Dansby did say there were "just four teams (where) I want to go," mentioning one (the Colts) by name.
Notes: As was the case in 2008, Dansby was at his best in the postseason, rising to the occasion in the Cardinals' wild 51-45 wild-card victory over the Packers in overtime. The Cardinals' second-round choice in the 2004 draft (33rd overall) showed just how dominant he could be against Green Bay in that game, playing a key role in all three of the Packers' turnovers, the last of which was his 17-yard return of a fumble recovery for the game-winning score. Dansby also deflected the intercepted pass by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that led to the Cardinals' first TD of the game and forced a fumble by Packers WR Donald Driver that led to the second score. During the regular season, however, Dansby's statistics left a lot to be desired. While he did register a team-high 109 tackles — his second straight campaign as the team leader in tackles — he posted a career-low one sack and was a nonfactor for prolonged stretches.
Positives: Dansby, who will turn 29 in November, is capable of excelling as both a run defender and a pass defender. Bright and instinctive, the Cardinals' "4-3 under" base defense has been specifically designed to capitalize on his excellent speed and range, as well as his ability to consistently clog up passing lanes with his long arms. Dansby also has become a much more mature player, outgrowing an early reputation as a guy who showed up only on Sundays, and has proven to be extremely durable, making 46 consecutive starts, including playoffs.
Negatives: Dansby's 2009 numbers don't lie. It would seem pretty hard to justify the king's ransom he is seeking, considering that he had only one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and zero fumble recoveries during the regular season.
Risk factor: The fact remains that, after six seasons, Dansby remains a tier below the game's top inside 'backers, and there are hardly any guarantees that he will perform at a consistent Pro Bowl level moving forward. His single-season career highs are 119 tackles (in 2008), eight sacks (in '06), three interceptions (in '05 and '07), three fumble recoveries (in '04 and '08) and four forced fumbles (in '07). The Dolphins should minimally expect those kinds of numbers in each of those categories on a yearly basis for a long time to come.
Friday: Panthers DE Julius Peppers
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