The Arizona Cardinals have more than enough off season decisions to make over the next couple of months. With 15 unrestricted free agents, two restricted and 12 exclusive rights free agents, Rod Graves and the rest of the front office will have plenty of work to keep them busy. The headliners of the Cardinals free agent class are undoubtedly Karlos Dansby and Kurt Warner, but Dansby should be the guy at the front of the line for several reasons.
First, he's wants to hit test the free agent waters and he wants big money. Warner has publicly stated that if he decides to return, it'll be in a Cardinal jersey and his salary demands should be considerably lower (compared to his market value) than Dansby. Secondly, the Cardinals have quality depth behind Warner with Matt Leinart. If Dansby leaves and signs with another team, either Ali Highsmigh or Victor Hobson. Highsmith was impressive last year on special teams but he's still a second year player coming off a major injury and Hobson was cut by two different teams last year. The team would be left scouring the free agent market or be forced to draft a linebacker early in the draft and enter the 2009 season with a rookie starter. However you look at the situation, the Arizona Cardinals are in a much better situation with Karlos Dansby under contract, so how can they make that happen?
First, Franchise Him Again: I know, I know...Dansby's contract number would be huge if they tag him for a second consecutive year. In fact, just so we're all on the same page, his cap hit for the 2009 season would be $9.68 million if he was tagged again. So why do it? The answer is simple, it buys you time to negotiate. If the Cardinals tag Dansby (deadline to tag is the 19th), they are the only team that can negotiate with him and they have until the middle of July to agree to a contract. If they chose not to franchise him by next Thursday though, he'll put the pressure squarely on the shoulder of Rod Graves. Graves will have until the start of free agency (Feb 27th) to sign Dansby or he'll hit the market. Could Dansby resent being 'controlled' by the Cardinals? Sure, but the Cardinals have to protect themselves and franchising Dansby protects the best interests of the franchise. They could also make it clear to Dansby and his agent that they're only doing this to buy time for them to agree on a long-term deal.
Second, Pay the Man: The Cardinals must look themselves in the mirror and realize that Karlos Dansby is the best linebacker in the free agent market. Plenty of people may argue with that statement and bring up Ray Lewis, but considering the difference in age, Dansby is a much more attractive free agent. This isn't a time for the organization to be cheap or count pennies. The Cardinals need to pull the specifics of Calvin Pace's contract, pump up the numbers just a bit and get Dansby under contract for the next five or six years.
That's my two cents, but we all know that doesn't count for much. My main point is that Dansby's future is still in the Cardinals hands and the future of the franchise should be put before a players personal feelings. What would you do if the door to your office said "General Manager?" Would you risk letting him hit the free agent market or is franchising him worth the risk?