Miami Dolphins Offseason Debate: The Case for Keeping Karlos Dansby

Vocal On and Off the Field - Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Why the Miami Dolphins Should Keep Their Highest Paid Defender Under Contract for 2013

With the Dolphins' season over, many have begun putting together mock offseason plans. The Earl awhile ago posted a "Mock 2013 Offseason" (read here) that would aggressively remake the Dolphins roster. While most have been debating the fate of upcoming Miami Dolphins free agents such as Jake Long, Sean Smith, etc., The Earl went a step further and proposed cutting veteran players still under contract, such as Ritchie Incognito. That made me wonder, if we're debating the value of players like Hartline and Incognito, why not consider cutting Dansby, whose cap hit will be $8.5 million in 2013 and $11.5 million in 2014?

I've seen many others debate Karlos Dansby's contract on this site. After some thought, I've decided it would be best to avoid cutting Dansby until after the 2013 season at the earliest. Here are the reasons why I believe even people who want to cut Dansby should prefer that the Dolphins wait until 2014 before doing so.

Why Dansby Should Be Kept for 2013

1. Though no longer making big plays like he used to, Karlos Dansby is still productive.

The most common and fair complaint from fans is that Dansby never lived up to the "Big-play" reputation he had in Arizona. As a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Dansby had 10 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles in 6 seasons (1.7 INTs and 2 FFs per year). In his 3 seasons in Miami since leaving Arizona, he's had 1 interception and 4 forced fumbles (0.3 INTs and 1.33 FF per year) - steep drops in both areas.

However, while Dansby isn't making big-plays, he has been reliable and making a big impact through his versatility.

Dansby has missed just 2 games in his 3 seasons with Miami, playing much of the 2012 season with a torn bicep. He finished 2012 with 101 total solo tackles, 33 assisted tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and 9 passes defensed in his first year at 4-3 middle linebacker. I know that not everyone is a fan of ProFootball Focus (PFF), but Dansby has been given positive grades in pass coverage and stopping the run by PFF every year he's been on the Dolphins. In his first year as an MLB, he's ranked 10th by PFF among the 35 middle/inside linebackers who have played at least 50% of their teams' defensive snaps this year. He's versatile enough to play 4-3 MLB, 4-3 OLB, and 3-4 ILB, and he's been productive on the field in more ways than just tackles. Players look to him for guidance and leadership, which is my next point.

2. Karlos Dansby is one of the team's (few) vocal leaders

People who watched HBO's Hard Knocks last summer likely remember the "Leadership Council" the players formed after the Vontae Davis trade. 3 players in a meeting with Joe Philbin proposed the formation of a players' council that would meet with Philbin regularly to report on the "pulse" of the locker room and listen to Philbin's concerns.

Those 3 team leaders? Long, Bush, and Dansby. That list includes 2 impending free agents (Long and Bush) who might not be back next year. Imagine if all 3 were off the team. Hopefully Tannehill could take over the leadership role on offense, but who are the vocal leaders on defense that would step up? Cameron Wake is more of a quiet, lead-by-example type. Reshad Jones is a good candidate, though like Tannehill, Jones is still growing as a player, with less than 2 full-seasons of starting experience. I'm not a fan of Dansby running his mouth to radio stations, but he commands a lot of respect in a Dolphins locker room that's going to add a lot of new faces this offseason. Speaking of which...

3. Miami has enough needs this offseason without adding "starting linebacker" to the list.

Miami has no ideal replacement for Dansby on the roster. Therefore, getting rid of Dansby forces the Dolphins to add either a new starting MLB or a new starting OLB if the Dolphins choose to move Koa Misi or Kevin Burnett to MLB.

Moving Misi or Burnett has downsides.
Burnett has never played MLB in the NFL and moving him there would create a huge hole at OLB, where he regularly plays 100% of a game's defensive snaps.
Misi was a 4-3 DE in college before being converted to 3-4 OLB as a NFL rookie, and he was converted this past season to a 2-down 4-3 OLB. Moving Misi to MLB would be his 3rd position switch in 5 years. It's high risk to ask a young player to learn a new position every 2 years (see Jason Allen, Miami's former S, CB, S, and then CB...).

The task of finding a new starting linebacker would join the list of 2013 offseason needs that, in my opinion, already includes a definite need for new starters at WR and CB, as well as possible needs for new starters/backups at S, DE, TE, and OG. That list assumes Miami doesn't lose any current key players like Jake Long to free agency. Any starters lost to free agency add to that list of needs. I would supporting drafting a backup MLB in the later rounds to serve as a backup next year and possibly a successor for Dansby in the long-term, but letting Dansby go now forces the Miami Dolphins to use an earlier draft pick on a replacement as the team would require an immediate starter....unless you think Miami can get lucky twice and find a Zach Thomas 2.0 prospect in the later rounds, which would be fantastic but unlikely...

Regardless of your opinion of Jeff Ireland, you have to agree that adding "starting MLB" to that already long list of needs doesn't make Ireland's job this offseason easier, especially when you consider how little the Dolphins save by cutting Dansby in 2013 instead of waiting until 2014. The actual salary cap savings earned by cutting Karlos Dansby before the 2013 season are not as significant as some may think.

4. The likely value of Dansby’s play in 2013 outweighs the cap benefit of cutting him in 2013.
Let’s consider each 2 plans. Plan 1 is cutting Dansby during this offseason (which I've nicknamed, "Adiós, Karlos" - Spanish for, "Farewell, Karlos"), versus my alternative of cutting Dansby in the 2014 offseason.

Results of Plan "Adiós, Karlos" – Cap savings and (Dead money) if Dansby is cut before the 2013 season:
$3.9 million ($4.7 million)
$11.5 million ($0 million)
With plan "Adiós, Karlos", Miami frees up $3.9 million to sign free agents in 2013, but the team must find a replacement for Dansby immediately. Still, this move would then free up $11.5 million in extra cap space in 2014. That's $15.4 million saved over 2 years.

Martin’s Alternative – Cap savings and (Dead money) if Dansby is cut in the 2014 offseason:
$0 million ($0 million)
$9.25 million ($2.3 million)
With this plan, Miami frees up no space to sign free agents in 2013 because Dansby is kept on the roster, but the team won't need to find a replacement until 2014. In 2014, after cutting Dansby, Miami has $9.25 million in extra cap space.

Comparison – Compared to plan "Adiós, Karlos", keeping Dansby in 2013 before cutting him in 2014 gives the Dolphins $3.9 million less to spend in free agency in the 2013 offseason. Think of Dansby’s marginal cost in 2013 being $3.9 million in 2013 because cutting him would only save the team $3.9 million, while the benefit is keeping the veteran starting linebacker on the team. The salary cap benefit of cutting Dansby doesn't equal Dansby's salary because of the "dead money" cap hit from his signing bonus.

If instead, Miami waits to cut Dansby until the 2014 offseason, Miami could hold off on drafting a replacement until then and still benefit from almost as much cap savings in 2014 ($9.25 million) as they would by cutting Dansby in the 2013 offseason ($11.5 million).

Therefore, the marginal cost of keeping Dansby for 1 more season is $3.9 million of lost cap space in 2013 and $2 million of lost cap space in 2014 (due to the dead money cap hit from his signing bonus). In total, that’s $5.9 million in cap space lost over 2 seasons by keeping Dansby just 1 more season. Whether Dansby’s production compared to a replacement's production is worth $6 million over 2 years depends on how good of a replacement Miami would be able to get during the 2013 offseason.

Miami likely has 10 draft picks and around $46 or so million in cap space this offseason. I’m not sure if adding to Miami's (long) current list of needs by cutting a player who is still productive is wise in exchange for $3.9 million more cap space this year.

THE CHOICE: Jeff Ireland has 4 options.

The first option - Plan "Stay the Course:" Keep Dansby on the roster for 2013 under his current deal. This option fits those who believe the $3.9 million in 2013 cap space gained by cutting Dansby doesn't make Miami a bigger player in free agency. The team would be able to re-evaluate its options in the 2014 offseason while not adding to the long list of needs for 2013. The cost is if Miami decides to cut Dansby in 2014, this plan means the Dolphins will have added $3.9 million to its 2013 cap and $2 million to its 2014 cap to keep Dansby for just 1 extra year ($5.9 million over 2 years).

The second option - Plan "Adiós, Karlos:" Cut Dansby ASAP. This option is for those who believe his contributions on the field are completely overrated, he's a nuisance to the coach off the field, and the extra $3.9 million in 2013 cap space that cutting him now frees up is worth more than having Dansby on the roster for at least one more year. Cutting Dansby now frees up the most money out of all 4 options over the next 2 years ($16 million total), but the concerns are the need to find a new replacement immediately and how unpopular this move would be in the Dolphins locker room.

The other 2 options deal with restructuring Dansby's contract. There's the "nice" way and the "not-so-nice" way of achieving a contract restructure when a player has multiple years left in his current deal.

The third option - Plan "Kumbayah:" Use the "nice" way of getting a player to willingly restructure his deal, which is to request he accept a lower salary per year in exchange for increasing the length of the contract and giving the player a new signing bonus. This is the option for fans who want to keep Dansby long-term and want to lower his large cap hit. A note of caution: Linebackers can decline very quickly after age 30 - a great example is the New York Jets, who are stuck with 3 highly paid and rapidly declining linebackers (Pace, Scott, and Harris) who were a solid group as recently as 2 years ago. Right now, Dansby has 2 years left on his current deal, which ends a few months before his 34th birthday. Restructuring now and adding an additional 2-3 years means he's under contract until around age 36.

The fourth option - Plan "Hardball:" Use the "not-so-nice" way of getting a player to restructure his deal, which is to threaten to cut him if he doesn't restructure his deal with new terms favorable to the team. The benefit is this would allow Miami to possibly keep Dansby and reduce Dansby's cap number without increasing the length of his deal. This option is for fans who think Dansby is productive but dramatically overpaid to the point where the team would be better off losing him rather than overpaying him.
Potential downside:
If the team threatens to cut Dansby, and he refuses to restructure, he has to be cut, and the team must find a replacement. If he agrees to the paycut, Dansby is likely to be an unhappy player, which could be a media nightmare if Miami struggles next year and Dansby starts complaining to the media (think of the NY Jets this year).

So given all that information, it's your turn to decide - what would you do if you were the GM?

Salary Cap information sources:

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