Of all the talented players on the move this offseason, one name will prove to be the most significant acquisition: Karlos Dansby.
Last season, he had one of his finest all-around seasons on a superb Arizona Cardinals defense. He finished with a team-leading 122 tackles (112 solo tackles) and four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
No other Cardinal defender had more than 77 tackles last season.
Dansby also managed a career-high 19 passes defensed and 6.5 sacks, his highest output since 2006.
Dansby will bring speed, leadership and tenacity to a new-look Browns defense. Moreover, Dansby is more motivated than ever and will be playing with a big chip on his shoulder next season:
I definitely want to dominate in a winning program, definitely want to be in a winning situation at this point in my career. I’m having fun, man, I’m just getting started. I’ve got some things up my sleeve I’m going to be doing this offseason to really solidify myself as the best linebacker in the league, period. I let it slip through my fingers last season, I won’t let it happen again.
To call the Browns a “winning situation” is fairly comical considering they last made the playoffs in 2002.
Dansby still has a great chance to become a top linebacker in the NFL. If the Browns are successful on defense in 2014, it will be in large part due to Dansby’s production and leadership.
On the whole, the 2014 Browns are already much-improved, too.
Coming into the offseason, they had a number of holes to fill and a lot of money to address them.
The team has splurged on game-changers and key role players, adding names like Dansby, safety Donte Whitner, running back Ben Tate, cornerback Isaiah Trufant, tight end Jim Dray and receivers Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins.
The Browns also have a chance to draft a franchise player, as they hold the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller predicts in his latest mock draft the Browns will take the speedy, polished Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
No matter how the draft goes, the Browns already boast a drastically improved defense thanks to Dansby.
Last season, Dansby completely turned around a befuddled Cardinals defense.
|Arizona Cardinals Defense With and Without Dansby|
|2012 (without Dansby)||2013 (with Dansby)|
|Rush Defense (yds/G)||137.0 (28th)||84.4 (1st)|
|Sacks||38 (11th)||47 (T-6th)|
|Opp. Pts/G||22.3 (17th)||20.2 (7th)|
In 2012, the Cardinals went 5-11 and allowed the fifth-most rushing yards and 10th-most total yards on defense. With Dansby leading the interior, the 2013 Cardinals gave up the fewest rushing yards in the NFL last season and finished 10-6 in a stacked division.
In fairness, the Cardinals’ defensive prowess also relied on breakout seasons from defensive backs Patrick Peterson and rookie Tyrann Mathieu, as well as good seasons from other stout defenders.
But Dansby’s leadership and value is without question, and he was a huge factor in the quick turnaround.
It came as no surprise that the Cardinals offered Dansby a contract one day after the 2013 season ended.
The Browns hope Dansby can turn things around just as quickly in Cleveland, too. Considering the Browns gave up the ninth-fewest total yards last season, Dansby should not have much trouble leading an even better defense this year.
D’Qwell Jackson, who Dansby will replace, was an athletic player and a well-respected leader but was not nearly as productive as Dansby.
Furthermore, Dansby’s deal looks even better considering the Browns wisely made the aging linebacker's upcoming season the most expensive year ($10 million) of the contract.
The signing of Dansby is a win for both sides. Dansby gets a hefty payday that he deserves, and the Browns lock up one of the most underrated linebackers in the league against both the rush and pass.
Injuries have never been a concern for Dansby either. He has played in at least 14 games every season of his NFL career.
With a barrage of free-agent moves this offseason, Dansby’s name flew under-the-radar. By the end of 2014, do not be surprised if Dansby lives up to his goal of becoming a top linebacker in the league.