TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -The Arizona Cardinals don't intend to let big-play linebacker Karlos Dansby get away when he becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season.
If they can't re-sign him, expect the Cardinals to use the franchise tag to force him to stay.
``Karlos is a valued player and he's recognized as being one of our core players,'' general manager Rod Graves said on Thursday. ``It's our intent to do everything we can to try to keep him here.''
Dansby, who said he expects to be back next year, didn't mind the prospect of becoming a franchise player.
``I think it would be an honor,'' he said. ``If that's the steps I have to take in order to get where I want to go, that's fine.''
If Dansby gets the exclusive franchise tag, he would have no choice but to remain under contract with Arizona. He would receive the average one-year salary of the five highest-paid linebackers in the league. Last season, that was $7.2 million.
Dansby is thought to want much more in a long-term deal, and he said the sides were ``not very close.''
Graves said contract talks have been sporadic.
``But I definitely assume that's going to pick up immediately after the season,'' he said.
Dansby's agent Kirk Wood said that he will talk to the team once the season ends.
``Karlos is very happy with the Cardinals,'' Wood said. ``He's really impressed with the new coaching staff and the organization that's in place. He wants to be there long-term and we're going to work very hard to make that happen.''
Shifted from outside linebacker to the middle by new coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff, Dansby is having the best season in a pro career disrupted by injuries. Even though he missed two games with a knee injury, Dansby leads the team in tackles with 112, 81 solo. He has three interceptions, eight passes defended, four forced fumbles, 3 1/2 sacks, two quarterback pressures and two quarterback hits.
He didn't make the Pro Bowl, but he believes he should have.
``I made a lot of big plays, flying around, just being electrifying. That's what I call it,'' he said. ``I think it was definitely a Pro Bowl season.''
Against St. Louis on Oct. 7, Dansby had a career-high 17 tackles, 13 unassisted. He was NFC defensive player of the week after intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble in Arizona's victory over Detroit on Nov. 11.
Concern about injuries kept the Cardinals from seriously pursuing contract talks after last season. Dansby missed all of training camp and the season opener a year ago with toe and leg injuries. Then-coach Dennis Green once intimated that Dansby wasn't working hard enough.
Injuries kept him out of three other games in 2006.
``People may ask, 'well, why did we wait this long to try to get Karlos under contract,''' Graves said. ``It, quite frankly, was questions about his durability. But we also recognized that whenever he was healthy, he was an impact player.''
The durability concerns have eased, Graves said, but he wants the issue to be addressed in any new contract
``He did miss some games for us, and I think from a contractual standpoint that will be something we would want to focus on is play time and that sort of thing,'' he said.
Whisenhunt is counting on Dansby.
``Certainly there were questions about his role this year, and he's been very productive,'' Whisenhunt said. ``I anticipate he'll be a very important part of what we want to do defensively from this point forward.''

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