In an effort to maintain their image as a franchise that likes to let talent run free and sign with other teams, the Cleveland Browns released inside linebacker Karlos Dansby yesterday to save cap space that will sit and not be used. For the rest of the league, they will see Dansby as a 34-year-old linebacker who proved to have plenty left in the tank. He had a solid year in 2015, finishing as Pro Football Focus' #3 inside linebacker in coverage. Dansby led the Browns in tackles, forced fumbles, interceptions, defensive touchdowns, and tackles for a loss. So all in all, stat-wise, the Browns just released their best defensive player in 2015. Nevertheless, Dansby should not be on the market for long as he quickly vaults to one of the best free agents in the NFL by default.
One team that could really use an inside linebacker (and a solid one at that) would be the Green Bay Packers, who also happen to be much more of a contender than Cleveland will be in the near future. Now, you're probably saying to yourself, "But the Packers don't sign free agents....". And you'd be right, the Packers and Ted Thompson seem to have made a pact to not sign anyone outside of the draft and their own free agents. But if the Packers were to make one outside addition this offseason, this would be a great player to select. Clay Matthews has been forced to play inside linebacker most of the time over the past two seasons while being a natural outside linebacker who is able to rush the quarterback on the edge. Unfortunately, due to injury and lack of depth at the position, Matthews has been forced inside. Signing Dansby would have a more natural inside linebacker at the position while allowing Matthews to go back outside and cause the havoc we all had been so used to seeing.
But would Dansby be a fit in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense? Yes, yes he would be. In his two seasons with the Browns' 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil, Dansby posted 201 tackles, four touchdowns, and eight pass deflections. Dansby averaged just under 7.2 tackles per game in his two years with the Browns (28 games). He is still a solid tackler even at age 34. Also, in four out of Dansby's last five seasons, he played in all 16 games (he missed four games in 2014), so staying healthy is not a concern. He also took over covering tight ends in 2015 for Cleveland and finished as the #3 best inside linebacker in coverage, per Pro Football Focus. And in a division with Zach Miller, Kyle Rudolph, and Eric Ebron, all big-bodied tight ends who have all proven to be red zone threats at the very least, Dansby's coverage skills could come in handy.
According to Spotrac.com, the Packers still have a little more than 12 million dollars in cap space after the re-signing of James Starks on Friday. I'd imagine that Dansby might be willing to take a small discount to play for a contender. He may not cost more than four million a season, which would be very affordable for a team with decent cap space and such a need at his Dansby's position. The big problem will be of course, is if Ted Thompson actually goes against the norm and actually signs a free agent from the outside. Over the past three off-seasons (2016 included), the only outside free agents the Packers have signed are Letroy Guion (Vikings) and Julius Peppers (Bears). Also, both of these signings were in 2014, so the Packers have literally added no-one from another team in free agency in the past two off-seasons including this current free agency period.
So the Packers have the cap space and the need for a player of Kansby's caliber. The big question will be whether or not Green Bay can convince themselves that free agency is actually about signing players other than their own. If you make one free agency signing this off-season, THIS is the one player to use that on. So do it Ted, press the shiny red button, it's okay, I'll keep your secret safe.