The Arizona Cardinals know that soon-to-be free agent linebacker Karlos Dansby is their top target this offseason. The team is gearing up to make a run in 2014 and Dansby was arguably the most important piece in the team's defense, which was number one against the run and top 10 in the league overall.
After playing 2013 on a one-year contract worth $2.25 million, he is not looking to give his services on the cheap. In a Josh Weinfuss ESPN report, Dansby said that he's "playing for what I'm worth."
How much is that? He is very clear in his belief that he is the league's best linebacker.
After his 2013 production, which was his best season as a pro, he definitely deserves a raise. The thing is that his numbers were not drastically better than all his previous seasons. He has always been a high tackle guy, but he made more impactful plays with sacks, interceptions and passes defensed last season.
The issue is how much should the Cardinals be willing to pay him? Dansby indicated to Weinfuss that he is worth as much as the highest paid guys. Tamba Hali made more than $12 million in base salary.
Dansby already said during the season that he thinks he has three or four good years left.
The question remains what would be a reasonable deal? He clearly deserves to get paid as one of the league's best defensive players. At the same time, the team wants to add talent around him. General manager Steve Keim said that the team has been aggressive about trying to get Dansby signed and that he "knows how important he is to us." Keim also was very clear that players "need to show some unselfishness."
The issue with what Keim said is that he was referring to Larry Fitzgerald's willingness to rework his contract to benefit the team. Fitz didn't take any less money. He was due to make $12.75 million in salary in 2014, which he would have been paid over the 17 weeks of the season. Restructuring his deal paid him $11.75 million now and will pay him another million over the 17 weeks of the season. There was nothing unselfish about that restructuring. He got all his money and almost all of it now.
So, by that logic, Dansby shouldn't take less money than he is worth. He should just do it in a cap-friendly fashion.
The Cardinals have players to replace Dansby. They signed Jasper Brinkley last offseason and drafted Kevin Minter before Dansby ever was part of the picture. Either one of those two players is a solid pairing with Daryl Washington. But Dansby and Washington was something special.
What makes things worse is the uncertain status of Washington's future. He has a a court date coming up for domestic violence charges that could lead to jail time, and, regardless of the outcome of the court case, he could be seeing league discipline. He could be suspended.
There is a big, big dropoff from a Dansby/Washington tandem to a Brinkley/Minter pairing.
For those who might say that the team should use the franchise tag, it is important to note that it would be the third time that Dansby is tagged, which would mean that he would have to be paid the average of the five highest players in the entire league (quarterback and Larry Fitzgerald money), rather than the five highest paid players at his position.
Now, Dansby also is on the record as saying he expects to be a Cardinal in 2014. It sounds like, in part, both Keim and Dansby are trying to create some leverage for negotiations.
The solution? Perhaps something structured like Carson Palmer's contract. Give him a two-year deal with a voidable third year and decent guaranteed money. Set up a contract with a cap hit of around $7-8 million this coming season. He gets his money and the Cards get their playmaker.
Is that being selfish? I'll say this -- it isn't not being unselfish. It's as unselfish as Larry Fitzgerald was.
Are Cardinals fans ready to replace Dansby with Minter or Brinkley? Is the defense an elite unit with Dansby out of the picture? If you don't think so, then you have to pay the man.
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