Karlos Dansby could have signed a two-year free-agent deal with the Bills in the spring of 2013, but he had bigger plans.
"Everybody wanted to give linebackers two-year deals last year, but I said, ‘No. I’ll do a one-year because what I bring to a team is a gift that’s not given to everybody. I’m God-sent!" Dansby said Friday. "I have the ability to change any organization into a winner. Guys will gravitate to me. I don’t have to be out front, but guys feel my presence and they know there’s something different about me when they bear witness."
Dansby got his wish last month when he signed a four-year deal with the Browns. The Arizona Republic reported that the Cardinals were only willing to offer two years.
"That’s a big loss because he’s a great leader," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "The knowledge you get from having a guy like that around is hard to replace."
The Cardinals insist they’re prepared to replace the guy who led them in tackles (122, 114 solos) while adding 6 1/2 sacks and four interceptions.
"You’re going to lose at least 10 guys a year the way this league is set up now between free agency, injuries and whatever else," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. "You have to plan for that. Somebody else just has to step up."
For now, that player appears to be Kevin Minter, the Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2013 (45th overall). Minter was largely relegated to special-teams play last season due to the superlative play of Dansby and Daryl Washington, but he’ll get the first crack at replacing Dansby, while Lorenzo Alexander also could see time inside.
When Minter arrived, coach Bruce Arians described him as "a thumper," a clear indication that Minter’s body type and skill set are a little different than Dansby’s.
"He has different athletic abilities. He’s more of a downhill player whereas Karlos was a longer, more fluid athlete," Bowles said. "Kevin has to put his own stamp on things. He doesn’t have to be as fluid and graceful as Karlos. He just has to get the job done. If there are some things he does well, we’ll tweak more to his style, and if there are things he doesn’t do as well, we’ll tweak there, too."
The Cardinals will get a clearer picture of Minter’s ability in OTAs and minicamp before deciding whether they need to add another piece in free agency. But the addition of cornerback Antonio Cromartie in free agency, the return of injured outside linebackers Sam Acho and Alexander (both were lost for the season in Week 3 last year) and last season’s No. 6 overall defensive ranking has the Cards more than confident.
"We have two Pro Bowl cover corners now," defensive tackle Dan Williams said. "I think we’re going to be a top-five defense."
You’re going to lose at least 10 guys a year the way this league is set up now between free agency, injuries and whatever else. You have to plan for that. Somebody else just has to step up.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles
While Campbell acknowledges that Dansby was a major cog in last season’s success, he also thinks a full year under Bowles will be evident this season.
"Once we figured it out last year, we were hard to beat," Campbell said. "I just hope we can start a little faster this season."
That is exactly what Bowles will be preaching when offseason workouts begin.
"I don’t believe in momentum from season to season, even if you have the same players," he said. "Swagger comes from practice and attention to details, and that’s where we’re going to put our focus."
As for Dansby, the chance to play for defensive-minded head coach Mike Pettine in a scheme he understands has him focusing on the loftiest of goals in Cleveland.
"What people don’t understand is I want that yellow (Hall of Fame) jacket, and that’s how Ray Lewis got it, by playing in this defense," Dansby said. "That’s why I came back (to Arizona), because Todd Bowles has a version of the same scheme.