The Arizona Cardinals took some big steps to re-tool their linebacker corps this offseason, adding Lorenzo Alexander and Jasper Brinkley in free agency and selecting LSU's Kevin Minter and Texas' Alex Okafor in the 2013 NFL draft.
The one constant the Cardinals thought they would have through this period of change was inside linebacker Daryl Washington. However, with Washington now staring at an uncertain future, the Redbirds have turned to a player from their past.
On Friday, the Cardinals agreed to terms on a one-year contract with veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby. The 31-year-old Dansby, who had a career-high 134 tackles for the Miami Dolphins in 2012, played his first six seasons with the Cardinals before leaving for Miami in free agency after the 2009 season.
Dansby, who was released by the Dolphins earlier this offseason, spoke glowingly of his return to the desert to Darren Urban of the Cardinals' website:
It’s unbelievable, man. To have this opportunity, with Mr. (Michael) Bidwill and his vision and Coach (Bruce) Arians’ vision, Todd Bowles, the whole team has a vision and I’m part of that vision. It’s a great feeling to have when the organization wants you. They wanted me back. It’s awesome. It’s awesome right now.
Fans of the Cardinals should be excited too, because as insurance policies go, it doesn't get much better than this.
Although the Miami Dolphins may have released Dansby, it certainly doesn't appear to have been performance-based. Despite the fact that Dansby played much of last season with a torn biceps muscle, he still had one of the best seasons of his career, grading out 13th among all inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Also, as Urban notes, Dansby brings versatility in and familiarity with new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' scheme with him to Arizona.
That versatility is going to come in very handy, thanks to the missteps of Daryl Washington.
Washington, already suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, now faces two charges of aggravated assault stemming from an altercation with his ex-girlfriend.
As Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk points out, depending on how that situation plays out, it's possible that Washington could face further disciplinary action for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Now, the Cardinals have hedged their bet very nicely, both against Washington's four-game vacation and the possibility of a longer one. So long as he's out, Dansby can play in his spot, with either Minter or Brinkley beside him.
Frankly, the smart money's on Minter here. Brinkley may have the edge on NFL experience, and is coming off a season in which he had nearly 100 tackles for the Minnesota Vikings. However, that number is somewhat misleading, as Brinkley also graded out as the fourth-worst inside linebacker in the NFL, according to PFF.
When things will get really interesting is when (if) Washington returns to the field this year.
The easiest plan upon his return would likely be to simply slot both Dansby and Washington inside, while rotating Minter in occasionally.
This would give the Cardinals a formidable duo of inside linebackers, while allowing the team to ease Minter into the defense, much as the team did when Washington entered the NFL.
However, ESPN's Matt Williamson (via colleague Matt Sando) posits another possibility, one that would allow the team to get all three linebackers on the field:
This move also further implies more 4-3 with Washington at weak-side linebacker and Kevin Minter at middle linebacker. With the Cardinals, their outside linebackers in a 3-4 are a liability for them. They can make that liability go away if they play more 4-3.
At first glance, a shift to more 4-3 looks might seem to create some problems up front, but a deeper look at the roster shows that isn't necessarily the case.
The Cardinals added a pair of 4-3 ends in free agency in Frostee Rucker and Matt Shaughnessy. Rather than ask those players to adopt unfamiliar roles, the pair could form a rotation at one end of the line.
At the other end of the line, the Cardinals could place either Darnell Dockett or Calais Campbell. That assumes that the team wouldn't just slot them at defensive tackle and play both Rucker and Shaughnessy (and possibly Okafor) at end.
However, that would seem a waste of the penetrating abilities of Campbell and Dockett, so we'll slot one at end and one at the "3-technique" tackle spot for the sake of argument.
That leaves the "1-technique" tackle spot, which is basically a space-eater. Dan Williams, come on down!
Voila. Four-man front. Not a bad one either.
Not only does Dansby's arrival in Arizona potentially open the door for a scheme switch, but it also casts more than a little uncertainty over Washington's future with the team.
Washington had a phenomenal third season last year, matching Dansby's 134 stops and pitching in nine sacks. However, Washington is also due a whopping $10 million in the form of a roster bonus next March.
The Bidwill family isn't exactly known for being free spenders. If Washington spends most of this season suspended, the team may balk at paying that bonus.
That's an easier call to make if the Cardinals think they can bring Dansby back, especially if he plays well again in 2013.
That's a problem for another day, though. For now, fans of the Cardinals should just celebrate the signing of Karlos Dansby, a deal that can't be looked at as anything but a big win for the team.
After the Washington news of the last couple of weeks, the team could use one.
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