What's next for Karlos Dansby?

Karlos Dansby is about to get paid.

The Cardinals linebacker-who has spent all six seasons of his NFL career in Arizona-is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Like many other free agents about to hit the market, Dansby could be playing football in a new city come next season.

And that could be a problem for the Arizona Cardinals.

There is no question that Dansby has been a big part of the Cardinals’ success over the past two years. The 2004 second-round draft pick out of Auburn has started all 32 regular season games since 2008 and has made his mark on the rest of the league in the process.

Since the start of the 2008 season, Dansby ranks 13th in the NFL in tackles (228), 8th in solo tackles (184) and fifth in stuffs (15). He led all NFL defenders in tackles during the 2008 postseason with 31, when the Cardinals went on to play for the Vince Lombardi trophy in Tampa Bay. In addition, he’s led Arizona in tackles in each of the past three seasons and has served as a defensive captain since 2008.

But Dansby’s overall impact can be seen in more than just the postgame box scores. From 1970-2007, the Cardinals franchise had played in just five total playoff games, winning only one of them (1998 vs. Dallas). And as Dansby continued to get better at the linebacker position, so too did the Cardinals, who have now played six playoff games since 2008 with four wins and two losses-not to mention back to back NFC West titles.

However, as is the case with many problems in the NFL, this issue will come down to one thing: money.

The Cardinals could become strapped for cash in a hurry as defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is looking for a contract extension with two years left on his current deal. Then there’s the case of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who seems to be either demanding a trade or looking for a new contract every offseason. In Boldin’s defense, he is grossly underpaid, but the wideout still has one year left on his current contract.

Throw in free agent kicker Neil Rackers and defensive end Chike Okeafor, as well as restricted free agents Steve Breaston (wide receiver) and Deuce Lutui (guard) and you can see why it looks all the more likely that the Cardinals won’t be able to hang on to their star linebacker.

Dansby told Odeen Domingo of the Arizona Republic recently that there haven’t been any talks “whatsoever” between his agent and the organization. It’s not hard to see why. With so much money tied up in quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, not to mention all of the aforementioned players about to hit free agency, it’s very hard to imagine the Cardinals will be able to hang on to one of the NFC’s premiere linebackers.

Take a look at the 2010 Cap Numbers of some of the upper-tier linebackers around the NFL:

Brian Urlacher Chicago Bears: $10.325 million
D.J. Williams Denver Broncos: $7.15 million
Jonathan Vilma New Orleans Saints: $6.372 million
Ray Lewis Baltimore Ravens: $5.75 million

With numbers like those floating around the NFL and Dansby set to hit the open market this offseason, the question becomes not “if” Dansby will return to Arizona, but “who” will be the front office that makes a big enough push to land the 28 year-old linebacker.

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