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Implications of Karlos Dansby signing on Bengals linebacker group

News broke early Tuesday that the Bengals were making the expected signing of Karlos Dansby. Could his landing in Cincinnati push another veteran out the door and/or open up the draft for other positional possibilities?

John Grieshop/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals began courting veteran free agent linebacker Karlos Dansby about a week ago, and on Tuesday, reports surfaced that he was finally going to be in stripes for 2016.

Though he's entering his 13th NFL season, Dansby brings a lot of what Marvin Lewis likes from his veterans, including leadership, a battle-tested resume, versatility, and enough talent left in the tank to potentially help the team get over the postseason hump.

Lost in the fanfare of a relatively high-profile signing is the splash of cold water for other players currently on the roster at the linebacker position. While the axing of a player might not need to happen immediately, Dansby looks to be an early lock for the final 53-man roster, so some others who have been with the team in recent years might be grinding for a job.

Dansby's arrival in Cincinnati could also impacts the draft in a variety of ways. Let's give a quick roster update on the position as a follow up to one we did a couple of weeks ago.

Inside Linebacker:

  1. Rey Maualuga
  2. Karlos Dansby
  3. Vincent Rey (Resigned March 10th, 2016)
  4. Jeff Luc (Signed January 11th, 2016)
Outside Linebacker:
  1. Vontaze Burfict (Suspended the first three games of 2016)
  2. Vincent Rey
  3. A.J. Hawk
  4. P.J. Dawson
  5. Marquis Flowers (Spent 2015 on I.R.)
  6. Taylor Mays (Hybrid safety/linebacker; suspended first four games of 2016; signed contract March 17th)
  7. Trevor Roach (Spent 2016 on Practice Squad; moved to roster for Wild Card game)
  8. Jayson DiManche (Signed January 5th, 2016)
At final cuts last season, the Bengals only kept six linebackers on the final roster (Burfict, Hawk, Rey, Dawson, Maualuga and Chris Carter), but it seems far more crowded at the position right now than it was last year. And, while it seems that inside linebacker is thin, it's important to know the Bengals switch up defensive looks often, with Burfict and Rey kicking inside at times. It also helps that Dansby has played all linebacker positions in the NFL and has experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes--it's why some believe he'll be the SAM starter for the Bengals in 2016.

Outlook on Veterans:

The important caveats to keep in mind are the suspensions to Mays and Burfict, as it will likely open up two spots for some of these guys throughout the first month of the season. Burfict, Rey, Maualuga, and Dansby all appear to be roster locks, with Dawson essentially also looking to be one, barring something totally unforeseen. That leaves one spot open at the beginning of the season for five players who are eligible to take it at that time.

Some murmurs have Hawk being swapped out for Dansby and there is merit to the thought. Hawk played in all 16 games last year, starting 11, and netted just 24 total tackles and one quarterback sack. Some felt he was a bit of a liability in coverage and perhaps it's why the Bengals sprung for the savvy Dansby, but Hawk does have the ability to play multiple spots in the position group.

Flowers is a guy who will have an uphill climb this year, after showing some promise as a rookie in 2014. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and now has significant NFL names and years of experience in front of him. It's likely that final spot comes down to he and Hawk in late August and early September.

Impact on the Draft:

As I mentioned in my post on a possible Brandon LaFell signing on Monday, inking Dansby frees the Bengals up in the Draft. Like receiver, most believed the Bengals were looking at a linebacker within those first three rounds, but that might not be the case now with what seems like a new starter and a still-developing 2015 third round selection behind him.

Geoff Hobson of corroborated this notion as he reacted to the Dansby signing, and it plays into the team's recent philosophy between free agency and the draft. Plug just enough holes via free agency so that no position is absolutely pressing toward desperation, and allow the best player available on the board to be selected for development. This isn't to say the Bengals don't whittle down positional possibilities to a small handful as they are on the clock, but there just aren't as many reaches for players anymore. Dansby's signing continues to play into that strategy for 2016.