On the eve of training camp, the Green Bay Packers made a surprise move by cutting Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Mike Daniels. The eight-year pro has played his entire career in Green Bay after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft. The Packers are losing one of their most outspoken defensive leaders over the past several years. It’s a new day in Wisconsin, though. Mike Pettine returns for his second season as defensive coordinator and it doesn’t seem like Daniels was a great fit in his scheme. Daniels has accumulated 29 sacks and 236 tackles over 102 games in Green Bay. His biggest impact came from his demeanor and fire, though. It will be tough for the Packers to replace the tenacity and heart that Mike Daniels has brought to the defense over the past half decade.
The Green Bay Packers Move on From Mike Daniels
Why Move on Now?
The timing of this move raised some eyebrows. The Packers could have done good by Daniels and released him in March at the onset of free agency. They also would have had more money to spend on the open market. Apparently, general manager Brian Gutekunst was attempting to trade Daniels over the past month or two. He was rehabbing a foot injury that landed him on injured reserve last year, so other teams could have been monitoring Daniels’s health before making a move. He is also entering his age 30 season. It is still shocking the Packers could not find any compensation for an established veteran with Daniels pedigree.
One benefit of releasing Daniels right now is that Gutekunst can now turn to future contracts. The Packers saved nearly $8.5 million against the cap this year. The day prior to Daniels’s release, the Packers signed defensive lineman Dean Lowry to a three-year contract extension worth up to $20.3 million. Lowry has been a stable but unexciting presence over his first three years in the league. The real priority will be budding star Kenny Clark. The 23-year-old former first rounder has developed each year and has already become one of the league’s premier interior d-linemen. Clark will deservedly command top market value. The Packers need to quickly lock him up to be the foundation of their defense for years to come.
New-Look Defensive Line
The Packers are losing a stalwart of their defense who went to the Pro Bowl just two years ago. Daniels has been an aggressive pass-rusher and wrecking ball against the run. His diminutive stature is why he fell to the fourth round in 2012 and it may be the reason he fell out of favor with the new coaching staff. The six-foot, 310-pound defensive tackle has been best utilized as a pass-rushing three-technique. Daniels has found some success at the five spot but isn’t as versatile as some of the other linemen on this team.
Gutekunst spent this off-season reshaping the Packers’ defense with an emphasis on the front-seven. He brought in jumbo outside linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith before drafting another versatile edge defender in Michigan’s Rashan Gary. Za’Darius and Gary, in particular, are capable of filling the hole left by Daniels. Both are about 6’4’’, 280 pounds with the quickness to play across the line. Combine them with the 6’6’’ Lowry and 6’3’’, 320 pound Clark and you can see Gutekunst and Pettine’s vision for the defense. These are huge men. Daniels compensates for his size with fire and determination, but he doesn’t have the natural stature of these new additions.
Pettine runs a very nontraditional 3-4 defensive alignment. This year, it really might look more like a 4-3. The Packers only bring back two established down linemen from last year. Lowry and Clark should see a lot of work on early downs and obvious run situations. Third-year pro Montravius Adams is the next man up. He brings just one sack, 22 tackles, and one start in two seasons but has drawn rave reviews the last two off-seasons. He will be competing with undrafted second-year pro Tyler Lancaster and fifth-round pick Kingsley Keke for playing time next to Clark and Lowry. There is a very good chance that only one or two of these five players will be on the field for most snaps. Pettine is already experimenting with sets that include four outside linebackers. In these lineups, Gary and Z will play the three and five techniques with Clark at the nose. Then Preston and fourth-year pro Kyler Fackrell will align on the edges. This gives the defense flexibility to combat both the run and the pass.
Daniels has already found a new home with the division rival Detroit Lions. It is still uncertain how Gutekunst couldn’t receive any compensation for Daniels in a trade package. It may come back to bite the Packers as he will now line up opposite Aaron Rodgers twice a year. The Packers are ready to move on with their new-look D-line but a Clark extension has to be on the near horizon. Gutekunst should do everything he can to make it happen before the season. Clark could very well play himself out of Green Bay with another impressive year. The Packers have so much money now tied up at linebacker that it may be tough to give Clark top-tier money. The release of Daniels at least aids in the endeavor of locking down one of the team’s best young players.