GREEN BAY — Mike Daniels was there in 2015 when the Green Bay Packers brought wide receiver James Jones back. He was there in 2018 when they brought defensive back Tramon Williams back.
Now, the ex-Packers Pro Bowl defensive tackle would love to be there when the Packers bring … well, him back in 2020.
Unsigned after his one-year deal with the Detroit Lions expired after the season, Daniels has been working out on his own at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, waiting for NFL facilities to re-open so he — and a host of other still-unsigned veterans with lingering injury questions — can get back on a roster and get back to work.
And while Daniels says his agent has fielded calls from a number of teams inquiring about him after his truncated season with the Lions, which ended for him landing on injured reserve in mid-December, he said this week that a reunion with the Packers would be perfect.
“Anything that I have heard (from the Packers) is classified,” Daniels said during an interview on ESPN Wisconsin earlier this week. “What I will say is that I’m very excited about the possibility and opportunity of coming back — if that were indeed a thing. Green Bay is home. It’s one of my homes — New Jersey, Iowa (and) Green Bay, Wisconsin. So to be able to return back to where I started my NFL career and now I’m way more mature, polished, would be great.”
Daniels finished the 2018 season, his seventh and final year in Green Bay, on injured reserve because of a foot injury. When he passed his physical on the eve of training camp last summer, the Packers released him in a cost-cutting move, with general manager Brian Gutekunst saying the decision was in part because the club wanted to get a long-term extension done with fellow defensive lineman Kenny Clark.
Daniels was in the final year of his deal, and releasing him wiped his $7.6 million base salary off the books. Gutekunst said at the time that the Packers tried to trade Daniels but acknowledged that uncertainty with his foot injury made that difficult.
Asked if the Packers 2019 defense would have been better with Daniels on it, Gutekunst replied, “I think it is probably (true). Mike is a very good player, and you never want to see a good player walk out the door, but there are also guys who are eager and ready to have their shot. We’re excited to see what they can do.
Added coach Matt LaFleur, who had just been hired a few months earlier: “I’ve been around Mike for a short period of time. I know he’s meant a lot to this community, he’s meant a lot to this football team. Obviously, having to prepare for him in the past, I still think he’s a really good player. You always want to keep good players. Unfortunately, that’s part of this business. There’s tough decisions that you have to make.”
If the Packers wanted to bring back Daniels, who turned 31 earlier this month, they could probably do so at a reasonable cost. Despite being gashed for 285 rushing yards by the San Francisco 49ers in their NFC Championship Game loss in January, the Packers made no significant additions to the defensive line rotation this offseason, adding only ex-Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Gerald Willis off waivers and signing journeyman defensive lineman Treyvon Hester after the draft.
The Packers are high on Kingsley Keke, a versatile fifth-round pick last year who had a limited role in their defensive line rotation as a rookie, but 2017 third-round pick Montravius Adams has been a keen disappointment during his first three seasons. The team did not select a true defensive lineman in last month’s draft, either.
After registering 26 tackles, two sacks, five tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits (second-most on the team) and 14 quarterback pressures (tied for third) in 2018 — a far cry from his Pro Bowl season of 2017, when he had a career-high 72 tackles, 11 TFLs, five sacks (third on the team), one forced fumble, 14 QB hits (third on the team) and seven QB pressures in 14 games — Daniels’ productivity dropped further in his one year in Detroit.
Although he played well for the Lions when he was on the field, finishing with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and two quarterback hits in just 189 snaps, he missed five games early in the season when he injured his other foot, then played in six games in November and December before landing on IR with an arm injury. He believes the injuries, coupled with team facilities being closed and preventing club doctors from examining would-be signees, have kept him from finding a new home this offseason.
“I’m one of many, many players who aren’t signed because of it,” Daniels said of the pandemic, pointing to ex-Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton as the highest-profile example. “This situation has really created a unique free-agency situation. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of your work.”
Daniels admitted being cut just before training camp was difficult last summer but said he “wasn’t surprised by it,” given his salary and the injury.
“I was really looking forward to bouncing back, getting into the groove of things, and got shown the exit. That’s just how football goes,” Daniels said. “Nobody wants to get cut. Nobody wants to get released. It’s a bad feeling. But, it’s the business. And I learned a lot this past season.”
Chief among those lessons were how to be a more effective leader. Frequently one of the team’s most outspoken, tough-talking players, Daniels said that a return to Green Bay would mean a different approach in that department.
Daniels hinted that he felt like he had to be that type of leader because of some of the less outgoing personalities on his side of the ball, and that he’d be able to take a less vocal, more lead-by-example role if he returned because Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Jaire Alexander and recent addition Christian Kirksey have the kinds of personalities that the previous culture lacked.
“I have so much more to offer than what I did in the seven years that I was there — which is crazy to think. So that would really be an awesome thing,” Daniels said. “I’m not saying everyone needs to go and spend a year on another NFL team, but to be in another locker room, to see the different culture and the players (was good). They had a very good, tough, hard-nosed, nobody-respects-us culture over there.
“You learn a lot when you see something different. You get out of your comfort zone and what you’re familiar with and that has really helped me grow as a leader, be more of an effective leader. I was, really, in some ways a more effective leader in my one year in Detroit than I was my final year in Green Bay. I was definitely a lot more action-oriented. I didn’t have to be as vocal because a lot of those guys were.
“In Green Bay, now you’ve got Jaire, you’ve got Za’Darius, you’ve got Kirksey … I feel like the personalities there are different. Those are really Type A personalities. They’re really going to let you know you’ve got to pick it up. They’re not afraid to go there. And that’s something I was criticized for quite a bit. Because when things go bad, that’s when people start to look at guys and go, ‘Oh man, that guy’s talking too much.’ We’ve had some great players and great teammates, but it definitely has a more vocal, more active atmosphere, and I can come in and be the wise old vet teaching young guys, showing young guys by example. I think that’s what I’ve learned the most.
“Being back in that position where you have to really earn the respect of the locker room, it’s very humbling. So now I feel like the rookie all over again but with the same veteran wisdom. And that’s what I’m really excited to bring back if I come back to Green Bay, or wherever I go. I’m really excited to bring that element back.”
Get ready for the Packers' 2020 season with a week-by-week breakdown
Get ready for Packers season with a week-by-week breakdown of Green Bay's schedule
WEEK 1 | AT MINNESOTA
Date: Sept. 13
Last meeting: The Packers defeated the Vikings, 23-10, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Dec. 23, 2019, to improve to 12-3 on the season and clinch the NFC North Division title. Packers running back Aaron Jones (above) had a season-high 154 rushing yards on 23 carries, scoring twice on the ground.
Player to watch: The Vikings' top pick in the 2020 NFL draft, LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (No. 22 overall) could make his first appearance in the storied rivalry when the teams meet to open the season. In three season with the Tigers, the 6-foot-1 Jefferson racked up 2,415 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns.
You should know: The Packers, winners of both meetings last season, lead the all-time regular-season series with a record of 61-53-3 against the Vikings.
WEEK 2 | VS. DETROIT
Date: Sept. 20
Last meeting: The Packers held off the Lions, 23-20, in their regular-season finale on Dec. 29, 2019, to finish the season with a 13-3 record under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur. While Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of 55 pass attempts for 323 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, it was kicker Mason Crosby (above) who proved to be the hero in the closing seconds, hitting a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give Green Bay the victory.
Player to watch: Veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, who missed the Lions' final meeting with the Packers last season after playing in only half of Detroit's games, is seen by some NFL insiders as due for a strong rebound this season. In his one appearance against Green Bay last season, Stafford completed 18 of 32 passes for 265 yards with no touchdowns and a passer rating of 83.5. Entering his 12th season, Stafford had previously been a steady presence for the Lions, not missing a regular-season game the previous eight seasons.
You should know: After winning both meetings last season, the Packers extended their head-to-head lead over the Lions to 100-72-7 in regular-season matchups.
WEEK 3 | AT NEW ORLEANS
Date: Sept. 27
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: When the Packers and Saints meet this season it will have been nearly three years since they last faced each other, when New Orleans won 26-17 on Oct. 22, 2017, at Lambeau Field. With Rodgers out due to injury, backup quarterback Brett Hundley, making his first start, couldn't get the job done, completing only 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Saints QB Drew Brees didn't have one of his best outings (27 of 38 for 331 yards with one TD and two interceptions) but it was enough to get the job done on the road as Green Bay managed only 3 points in the second half after leading 14-7 at the break.
Player to watch: Wisconsin football fans are well aware of the damage New Orleans rookie linebacker Zack Baun is capable of inflicting on an offense. Baun, taken by the Saints in the third round (No. 74 overall), had a strong career for the Badgers, finishing his four years in Madison with 152 tackles, 15 sacks and two interceptions.
You should know: During the teams' 2017 meeting at Lambeau Field, Packers legend Bart Starr (above) was in attendance as Green Bay celebrated the 50th anniversary of its 1967 championship team. It would be the last pubic appearance at a Packers game for the Hall of Fame quarterback, who passed away at the age of 85 on May 26, 2019.
WEEK 4 | VS. ATLANTA
Date: Oct. 5 (Monday)
Time: 7:15 p.m.
Last meeting: The Packers defeated the Falcons, 34-20, on Dec. 9, 2018, at Lambeau Field. Despite taking four sacks, Rodgers turned in a solid outing, completing 21 of 32 attempts for 196 yards and two touchdowns as Packers interim coach Joe Philbin (above) picked up his first win just seven days after longtime coach Mike McCarthy's ouster.
Player to watch: Cornerback AJ Terrell, taken by Atlanta with the 16th pick in this year's NFL draft, could cause headaches for Green Bay's thin receiver corps. The 6-foot-1 Terrell finished his three-year career at Clemson with 101 tackles, two forced fumbles and six interceptions. Clemson fell to LSU, 42-25, in last season's College Football Championship, with Terrell registering five tackles in his final collegiate game.
You should know: The Packers had reportedly asked the league for a road date for Week 4, with the University of Wisconsin football team scheduled to face Notre Dame on Saturday, Oct. 3, at Lambeau Field. Instead, Lambeau is now set to host two games in a span of three days.
WEEK 5 | BYE
WEEK 6 | AT TAMPA BAY
Date: Oct. 18
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: While Green Bay defeated Tampa Bay, 26-20, on Dec. 3, 2017, at Lambeau, these are far from the same Buccaneers. During the teams' last meeting, then third-year QB Jameis Winston, en route to 3-10 mark under center on the season, had a roller-coaster performance. Despite throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, Winston was sacked seven times as Green Bay needed an overtime score from running back Aaron Jones (above) to pull out the victory.
Player to watch: Two words — Tom Brady. A sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great quarterbacks, Brady shocked the football world this offseason when he left the New England Patriots after 20 years — and six Super Bowl victories — to head south in hopes of turning around the woeful Bucs, who finished last season with a 5-11 record.
You should know: Brady isn't the only big-name addition Tampa Bay made this offseason. One of Brady's favorite targets in New England, tight end Rob Gronkowski, came out of his one-year retirement to join his pal in the NFC South Division.
WEEK 7 | AT HOUSTON
Date: Oct. 25
Last meeting: The Packers last faced the Texans on Dec. 4, 2016, pulling out a 21-13 victory at a snow-covered Lambeau after posting 14 points in the final quarter. Rodgers had a strong showing, completing 20 of 30 attempts for 270 yards and two scores with no interceptions. But it was wide receiver Jordy Nelson (above) who turned in a stellar performance, racking up 118 yards on eight catches, including a 32-yard touchdown in the final quarter.
Player to watch: A three-time NFL defensive player of the year, Wisconsin native J.J. Watt needs no introduction to football fans in the Dairy State. While Watt missed a large chunk of last season, he did return in time for the playoffs, helping Houston defeat Buffalo in the Wild Card round before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs, who went on to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
You should know: This will only be the fifth meeting between the two teams, with the Packers having won 3 of the 4 previous matchups, including the last two.
WEEK 8 | VS. MINNESOTA
Date: Nov. 1
You should know: It's been over a decade since these NFC North rivals have wrapped their regular-season battle this early in the season. In 2009, the Packers and Vikings faced off in Week 8 on Nov. 1 for the final time in the regular season, with Brett Favre (above) leading Minnesota to a 38-26 victory over his former team. Last season, the teams didn't meet for the final time until Week 16, when Green Bay won in Minnesota to clinch the division title.
WEEK 9 | AT SAN FRANCISCO
Date: Nov. 5 (Thursday)
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: Packers fans likely don't need — or want — a reminder about what happened the last time Green Bay and San Francisco went head to head. But for those who blocked out that painful encounter, here's a quick refresher. With a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line, the Packers' defense was no match for the 49ers' ground game in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19 as running back Raheem Mostert (above) had his way while rushing for 220 yards and four scores en route to a 37-20 victory. Green Bay also struggled mightily in their lone regular-season meeting last season as San Francisco handed the Packers one of their three regular-season losses, a 37-8 defeat in Week 12.
Player to watch: While the Packers didn't use any of their selections in this year's draft on one of the many talented wide receivers, the 49ers traded up to take WR Brandon Aiyuk out of Arizona State in the first round (No. 25 overall). The 6-foot Aiyuk, who caught 98 passes for 1,666 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons with the Sun Devils, could contribute right away for the NFC champs, who are also thin at the receiver position.
You should know: While the Packers have a narrow lead over the 49ers in regular-season matchups (32-28-1), the teams are now 4-4 in the playoffs, with the Packers having lost the past three postseason meetings.
WEEK 10 | VS. JACKSONVILLE
Date: Nov. 15
Last meeting: The Packers last faced the Jaguars four years ago in their season opener on Sept. 11, 2016, escaping with a 27-23 win at EverBank Field. With both teams posting only 6 points apiece after halftime, it was Green Bay's 14-point second quarter that proved the difference. Rodgers delivered his two touchdown passes of the day in the frame, connecting on a 6-yarder to Nelson and a 29-yard score to Davante Adams (above) in the closing seconds of the first half.
Player to watch: The Jaguars used the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft on cornerback CJ Henderson, who earned first-team all-SEC honors last season at Florida. The 6-foot-1 Henderson finished his three years with the Gators with 93 tackles, six interceptions and four sacks.
You should know: Having only met six times, Green Bay leads the all-time series 4-2, with their last loss to Jacksonville coming in 2008, Rodgers' first season as a starter.
WEEK 11 | AT INDIANAPOLIS
Date: Nov. 22
Last meeting: Green Bay and Indianapolis last squared off on Nov. 6, 2016, with the Colts escaping Lambeau with 31-26 victory despite the Packers scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter. Colts QB Andrew Luck (above) was a bit shaky, throwing two interceptions to go along with 281 yards passing and a touchdown, but it was enough to get the job done. Rodgers had more yards (297) and touchdowns (3) but he couldn't pull off the comeback after Green Bay entered halftime down 24-10.
Player to watch: Quarterback Philip Rivers signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Colts on March 21 to become their new starting quarterback. The 38-year-old Rivers, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, spent the first 16 years of his NFL career with the Chargers but struggled last season, finishing his final campaign with a 5-11 record.
You should know: The Colts have a slight edge over the Packers in the all-time series, with 22-20-1 record in regular-season matchups.
WEEK 12 | VS. CHICAGO
Date: Nov. 29
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: The Packers and Bears met for the final time last season in Week 15, with Green Bay defeating Chicago, 21-13, on Dec. 15, 2019, at Lambeau Field to improve to 11-3 on the season. Adams (above) had a monster day for the Packers, catching seven passes from Rodgers for 103 yards and a touchdown. The Packers also picked up a 10-3 victory over the Bears in Week 1.
Player to watch: Despite the Bears recently declining to pick up quarterback Mitch Trubisky's fifth-year contract option, worth $24.8 million, Chicago's front office is insisting that the team has faith in him. Starting 15 games in his third season last year, Trubisky finished with an 8-7 record after going 11-3 in 2018 and 4-8 in 2017.
You should know: In one of the most-storied rivalries in professional sports, Green Bay leads Chicago 98-94-6 dating back to the 1921 season.
WEEK 13 | VS. PHILADELPHIA
Date: Dec. 6
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: The fist of Green Bay's three losses last season came against Philadelphia as the Eagles pulled out a 34-27 victory over the Packers at Lambeau in Week 4 on Sept. 26, 2019. The Packers tied the game at 27-all late in the third quarter when Rodgers found tight end Jimmy Graham (above) for a 14-yard touchdown, but Green Bay failed to score again, with Adams leaving in the fourth with an injury. A 2-yard touchdown run by running back Jordan Howard early in the final frame put Philadelphia ahead for good. The Packers would rebound from the loss by winning four straight before falling to the Chargers in Los Angeles in Week 9.
Player to watch: Veteran quarterback Carson Wentz says he's "excited" by Philadelphia's decision to draft former Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts in the second round of this year's draft. With three years and almost $130 million left on his contract, Wentz likely isn't going anywhere soon, but there will be a lot of eyes on Philadelphia waiting to see how the move unfolds. Packers fans can surely relate after Green Bay traded up in the first round to draft QB Jordan Love out of Utah State with the intention of grooming him to be Rodgers' eventual replacement.
You should know: The Packers lead the all-time series 27-15, but the Eagles have a 2-1 advantage in postseason matchups.
WEEK 14 | AT DETROIT
Date: Dec. 13
You should know: Before last season's Week 17 win over the Lions (above), the Packers had lost the previous two meetings at Ford Field by a combined 32 points. Green Bay's previous win in Detroit came on Jan. 1, 2017, in the final game of the 2016 season as the Packers were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak that spanned the regular season and playoffs and ended when they fell to the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
WEEK 15 | VS. CAROLINA
Date: Dec. 19 or 20 (Saturday or Sunday)
Last meeting: The Packers held off the Panthers, 24-16, in Week 10 last season at Lambeau Field on Nov. 10, 2019, to improve to 8-2 entering their bye week. Adams, after struggling in his first game back after missing a month due to a turf-toe injury, was back to his usual self, finishing with 118 yards on seven catches. Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown pass in the victory, but running back Aaron Jones (above) had three rushing touchdowns.
Player to watch: The Panthers got a monster at defensive tackle with their first pick in this year's draft, taking Derrick Brown out of Auburn. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Brown earned unanimous All-American honors in his senior year and finished his four-year career with the Tigers totaling 170 tackles and 13 sacks.
You should know: The Packers are 9-6 all time against the Panthers, but they dropped the last two matchups, both on the road, before last season's victory at Lambeau.
WEEK 16 | VS. TENNESSEE
Date: Dec. 27
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: The Packers haven't faced the Titans in four seasons, which should hopefully have been enough time to forget the teams' last matchup. In Week 10 of the 2016 season, Green Bay was hammered in Tennessee as the Titans rolled to a 47-25 victory on Nov. 13, 2016. Rodgers (above) threw the ball 51 times, but struggled, completing 31 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns while throwing two interceptions and getting sacked five times for a loss of 46 yards.
Player to watch: Tennessee running back Derrick Henry, entering his fifth NFL season, is looking to build on his career year when he led the league in rushing yards with 1,540 and also posted career highs in carries (303) and rushing average (102.7 yards per game). Henry, who was franchised tagged this offseason, is one of the favorites to lead the league in rushing again this season.
You should know: The Packers, who trail the all-time series 5-7, have lost four of their last five games against the Titans, with their sole win in that span a 55-7 drubbing in Green Bay on Dec. 23, 2012.
WEEK 17 | AT CHICAGO
Date: Jan. 3
You should know: The last time the Packers and Bears faced off in Week 17 came in 2013, when Green Bay defeated Chicago, 33-28, to finish the regular season with an 8-7-1 record. Rodgers, in his first game back since fracturing his collarbone against the Bears in Week 9 that season, engineered a comeback at Soldier Field, scrambling on fourth-and-eight to find Randall Cobb (above) for a 48-yard touchdown in the final minute to put the Packers over the top and into the playoffs.