The Bengals made their only two outside free agency moves this week, signing Karlos Dansby and Brandon LaFell to contracts. The two players have each played in the Super Bowl, and LaFell won a ring with the New England Patriots in 2014. Dansby fell short of winning a Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in their 2009 Super Bowl run, and the bitterness of the loss remains with him to this day. In fact, the brutal feeling of defeat left in Dansby's mouth is what drives him to help the Bengals get over the hump and win not only a playoff game, but a Super Bowl.
Dansby seemed interested in a contract offer from the Bengals since the day he was cut by the Browns, but it took two weeks for Cincinnati to officially sign the linebacker.
"Oh man, this is going to be awesome," the outside linebacker said in a Wednesday conference call with ESPN and other members of the Bengals media. "I really can't put into words this situation because you just can't draw this up every day. The talent that we have on this team, man."
The linebacker is spot-on in his estimations, too. Having played six games against the Bengals in his career, four of those being matchups with Andy Dalton, Dansby knows what to expect from Cincinnati's offense. While his teams won the first four matchups with Cincinnati (2007 with Arizona, 2010 and 2012 with Miami and 2014 with the Browns) his team also got smoked in their three most recent matchups (though, Dansby did not play in the Bengals' crushing defeat over the Johnny Manziel-led Browns in 2014). Watching the Bengals relentlessly light up his former teammates in the past few matchups between Cleveland and Cincinnati is probably even more assuring to the 12-year veteran in knowing Cincinnati will be a good place for him to play likely his final years in the NFL.
Evaluating Dansby, the words "coverage" and "dynamic" dominate discussions. Dansby is one of the NFL's premiere coverage linebackers, and his versatility is something the Bengals have coveted in a linebacker for a long time. Dansby seems to agree with this notion.
"With what I bring to the table myself, I think it can be very, very dynamic here, and it'll cause some problems for a lot of teams that weren't expecting this kind of move, or weren't expecting to have to deal with this kind of talent that we have on this defense."
Ultimately, though, the linebacker's biggest focus likely won't be on what he can bring to the team in terms of skillset, but what he can bring to the team in terms of leadership and experience. Dansby watched the Wild Card matchup between the Steelers and the Bengals and he feels he knows what the team mindset had to be afterward.
"It was a tough way to end because they had the game won," Dansby said. "A play here, a play there. A flag here, flag there, and you lose the game. It's a tough pill to swallow."
Watching the Bengals seemingly fall apart under the lights reminded Dansby of the most bitter loss he's ever suffered, a game that has remained in his memory to this day: the Arizona Cardinals' Super Bowl XLIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It pushed me to another level," Dansby said. "So I know the expectation level here coming in is like, these guys are going to be ready to go. They're going to be itching to get back out on the field. They're going to have a certain kind of drive, a certain kind of passion for the game that they didn't have before because they were so close. They knew they had an opportunity to win that game and they lost it. I fit right into that boat. I want to be around guys that have the same kind of mindset."
Dansby strives to lead by example, and while he's too humble to confidently tell reporters he anticipates being in the starting lineup, he's confident that he'll be able to help his team, whether he plays 500 snaps or 10.
"These guys are going to push me," Dansby said. "Because they see me and they'll be like, 'Man, if he can do it, I know I can do it.' Their drive is going to push my drive and make me even better."
One person Dansby will be responsible for pushing is Vontaze Burfict, who will serve a three game suspension to start the 2016 season. Dansby praised Burfict on Wednesday.
"Vontaze Burfict is a great player and I just hope my drive can match his drive and make him better," Dansby said, via ESPN.
While he hasn't suffered five straight playoff losses, Dansby has endured the agony of a Super Bowl loss, he's endured the pain of missing the playoffs in every season since 2009. Playing for a contender in 2016, Dansby has plenty to gain and nothing to lose. In addition to perennially being overlooked as a player, like many Bengals players, Dansby desires something more than recognition: a Super Bowl ring. Whether it means leading by example on the field or by leading by encouraging his teammates from the sideline, the linebacker is humble enough, and willing to do just that.
"As a leader, you need to find out what's needed in a situation, and it has to be natural," Dansby said. "It can't be something that's forced. Some people do it by leading by example, and some people do it just by their play on the field. It's so many different levels to being a leader, and once you figure that out and you go into a situation like this where you have a team full of leaders, you've got to just find your role. You've got to be able to follow, and you've got to be humble enough to follow, and you've got to be strong enough to lead where it's needed."
On Wednesday, the Bengals gained themselves a leader. Dansby should instantly become a fan favorite, as he's as humble as a football player gets. And despite being 34-years-old, the guy can still play. Hopefully Dansby will be able to help Cincinnati in his quest to win a Super Bowl.