Dansby wants his worth in free agency

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby believe he belongs in the conversation of greatest linebackers of the last decade. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

To Karlos Dansby, home in 2014 will be wherever he gets paid the highest salary, regardless of where is heart is.

But if all goes according to plan, that’ll be back in Arizona.

The 32-year-old inside linebacker will be an unrestricted free agent come March 11 but Dansby said his agent hasn’t entered into talks with the Cardinals. He expects them to begin at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, which starts Wednesday.

Dansby wants to return next season and build on what the Cardinals’ defense started under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, finishing the season ranked No. 1 against the run and sixth overall, but he wouldn’t commit to taking a hometown discount for that to happen. He’s “playing for what I’m worth.”

“Did you see what we did last year?” Dansby said. “We’re just getting started. It was our first time together and by the end of the season, we had it really going.”

Dansby didn’t have a specific amount or length he wanted his contract to be worth, but he said he’s worth as much as the highest paid linebacker in the NFL -- Kansas City’s Tamba Hali, whose $12.5 million base salary was the highest for a linebacker the league.

Green Bay’s Clay Matthews ($22 million) and Cleveland’s Paul Kruger ($13 million) had higher overall contract values in 2013 because of signing and roster bonuses.

Last season, Dansby made $2.25 million after making more than $8 million for the five previous seasons, including $9 million in 2012, his last with the Miami Dolphins. Dansby won’t mind if the Cardinals don’t franchise him this season, which is unlikely, because that means he’ll get a long-term deal. If by some chance Arizona does franchise him for the third time in his career and pays him an estimated $10.8 million in 2014, “I’ll go prove myself one more season,” Dansby said.

Compared to Hali, who, at 30 years old, had 39 tackles, 11 sacks, one interception, one touchdown and five forced fumbles in 15 games, Dansby had a better year. Dansby finished with 114 tackles, 6.5 sacks, four interceptions, two touchdowns and one forced fumble in all 16 games.

With the exception of one fewer sack than Matthews, who played in only 11 games because of injury, Dansby’s overall numbers were better than Matthews and Kruger’s.

But Dansby wasn’t done.

“If you want to go for career, I don’t see anybody touching me right now,” Dansby said. “Only guy that had a shot was (former Washington Redskins linebacker London) Fletcher. That’s the only guy that had me beat. You see all the guys that came in with me you have nobody on my level with me right now.

“I want to be one of the best to every do it and I’m on track. It was (former Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis. (Former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian) Urlacher. Numbers don’t lie. Fletcher. Then it’s me. That’s a big gap. And I’m filling that void. Ain’t nobody else filling that void. Put the numbers to the numbers and let the chips fall where they may.”

By comparing Dansby’s career stats with those of Urlacher, Lewis and Fletcher, the Cardinals’ linebacker has a point.

Dansby is on pace to catch everyone he’s chasing in those respective categories. His next goal is reach the 20 sack/20 interception club, then he wants to join the elite 30/30 club. Dansby said give him three years and he can get the 15 interceptions.

So what happens if Dansby is signed to a multi-year deal and plays up to -- or better than -- the level he was at in 2013? Does Dansby enter the conversation for a yellow jacket?

It’s been his goal since Dennis Green first interviewed him coming out of Auburn University in 2004.

“First one ever without a Pro Bowl,” Dansby said. “You can’t argue with it because the numbers speak for itself.”

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, there hasn’t been a single player enshrined whose careers took place while a Pro Bowl was played, which was from 1939 to 1942 and then from 1951 on, to never play in the game.

Ten years into his career, Dansby has yet to be a Pro Bowler. Granted, he has as many years left to make the Pro Bowl as teams will keep signing him and the Hall of Fame is a discussion for after he retires, but Dansby said he’ll come back in 2014 in even better shape than he was in 2013.

He’s already down to 229 pounds working with trainers in Florida and Arizona, but he said he’ll still have the strength to squat 415 and power clean 315. He’s narrowed his focus on specific areas that he wants to improve -- such as his speed.

“People talk about I can’t run,” Dansby said. “Have you been watching film? I don’t know if people been watching film?"

“I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission. I’m a mission. That’s all I can tell you.”