Is Dansby worth big free-agent money?

With free agency and a new league year starting on Friday, the National Football Post is taking a look at players who will hit the market as the league begins doing business in unchartered waters. Today: linebacker Karlos Dansby.

Background

The Cardinals have gone year to year with Dansby for two seasons, placing the franchise tag on him in 2008 and 2009. A rule instituted in 2006 requires that a third consecutive franchise tag be the highest tag number ($16.4 million this year, the number for quarterbacks), so the Cardinals were forced to set Dansby free to chase the market. Although Arizona is still in the mix, he appears set to leave the desert, having already publicly named the four teams where he might want to play. Dansby will have suitors and will be in extremely high demand for a strong contract out of the chute when the free agency bell rings on Friday. He’ll be emboldened by the fact that his highlight of the winning play against the Packers in the playoffs will be fresh in the minds of the fan base and the highlight reel for the media of the team he joins.

Cost

Dansby will certainly look to a couple of comparable contracts, both with the New York Jets. Two years ago, his former teammate with the Cardinals, Calvin Pace, reached a six-year, $42-million deal, with $22M guaranteed. And last year at this time, Bart Scott set a new standard for linebackers, signing a six-year, $48M deal, with $27M paid out in the first three years. Dansby will also be closely watching the negotiations between Gary Brackett and the Colts to see if they reach a deal prior to Friday and set a new standard for the 2010 market. With sources telling me that three teams are making aggressive plays for Dansby and that the Cardinals are still in the picture, he could possibly eclipse the markers set by Pace and Scott.

Value

Dansby, by all accounts, has good character and solid football instincts. Moreover – and this is a key factor in judging whether to pay big money to a player – he has shown good durability, with 46 consecutive starts. He also appears to be the right age, not turning 29 until November, and is blessed with good size for lasting a while.

Having said all of that, I would be hesitant to commit money similar to what was described above to an inside linebacker without an eye-popping stat line (Dansby only had one sack and one interception in 2009) for two reasons: (1) the position is not a high-impact position like offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback, etc., and (2) inside linebackers tend to be very dependent on scheme to be effective. The scheme of the Cardinals seemed to fit Dansby well; it’s not certain that a new scheme will do the same.

The above concern demonstrates the problem with free agency in football compared to other sports such as basketball and baseball. Football is not seamless in transition as baseball is with players who hit, pitch and field; football requires players to fit in schemes and mesh with 10 other players on the field.

Destination

Miami will make a strong play here. Bill Parcells covets big linebackers and will use the money scheduled to go to Joey Porter as part of the team’s offer.

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