The signing, announced by the team Friday, could signal other things as well.
2012 Stat Comparison
"Dansby is a great fill-in for Washington during the suspension," ESPN's NFL scout, Matt Williamson, said, "but this move also further implies more 4-3 with Washington at weak-side linebacker and Kevin Minter at middle linebacker."
The Cardinals have run a traditional 3-4 defense in the Pittsburgh Steelers' mold over the past two seasons. New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to trend away from that approach, but it's not yet clear to what degree.
"I usually don't like a shift in scheme," Williamson said. "Ninety percent of the time, you are creating holes and fixing what is not broken, like with Buffalo going to a 3-4 after spending all that money for Mario Williams, who really should be a 4-3 end, or with Kansas City and Glenn Dorsey a few years ago.
"But with the Cardinals, their outside linebackers in a 3-4 are a liability for them. They can make that liability go away if they play more 4-3."
Williamson worked with Bowles in Cleveland when Butch Davis was the Browns' head coach. Bowles assisted Chuck Pagano, then the Browns' secondary coach, as Cleveland ran a very straightforward 4-3 scheme. Bowles has subsequently worked in a 3-4 with the Miami Dolphins and a 4-3 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Bowles and Dansby were together with the Dolphins when Miami ran a version of the 3-4 under then-coordinator Mike Nolan.
"Dansby is a taller, longer guy you could see lining up over the tight end," Williamson said. "He doesn't look like Minter or Jasper Brinkley or most 3-4 inside linebackers."
Dansby played strong-side linebacker during his first run with the Cardinals from 2004 through 2009. He worked at weak-side linebacker in the Dolphins' 3-4 before emerging in the strong-side "Mike" role. Dansby credited Nolan for expanding his game.
"He took my game to another level," Dansby said in 2010. "He put me in a new position that I had never played before in this defense and he really taught me the difference between the two positions and I just want to thank him for that opportunity to play the 'Mike' linebacker.
"It's totally different from the 'Will' linebacker and 'Sam' linebacker. And all I had done before was play 'Sam' linebacker. He’s a legendary coach in my book as a defensive coordinator and it was mind-blowing the difference in the two. He taught me a lot and he made me a better linebacker for that."
So, as Williamson noted, Dansby could play inside linebacker in a 3-4 if the Cardinals chose to run one. Or, more sensibly, he could play the strong side in a 4-3, with Minter in the middle and Washington on the weak side.
"You would want all three of those guys on the field on first-and-10," Williamson said.