GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers’ defense might have been better off with Mike Daniels as a part of it for one more season. But with the $7.6 million base salary and $10.7 million salary-cap charge the veteran defensive tackle was set to carry in 2019, the Packers decided moving on from him made both sense and cents.
Asked Wednesday afternoon a one-word question about his decision to cut the popular Daniels, a 2012 fourth-round pick who blossomed into a Pro Bowl player and interior line force during his seven seasons in Green Bay, general manager Brian Gutekunst’s explanation left little doubt that the call was primarily a financial one.
“Obviously there are choices that you have to make. Some are more long-term choices that you have to make, looking out forward,” Gutekunst replied. “I feel pretty good about the depth we have in our defensive line room right now, and these things are never easy. But we wanted to make sure we had some flexibility moving ahead.”
Later, Gutekunst added, “Obviously, Mike was in the last year of his contract. (With) what we did in free agency and the draft, you’re always looking at different things to try to improve your football team not only in the moment right now, but also as you look ahead into the future. So those are things we think of, we go through, see what the best thing is for the club.”
Asked if the 2019 Packers defense would be better with Daniels as part of it, Gutekunst replied, “I think it’s probably, I think we’re pretty excited about the guys we’ve got. 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.”
Gutekunst confirmed that the Packers tried to trade Daniels and that he thought he might be able to get a deal done to get something in return for a former Pro Bowler.
“Those kind of came apart in the last couple weeks here,” Gutekunst said of the trade talks. “That was part of it.”
The 30-year-old Daniels had one year left on the four-year, $41 million extension he signed in December 2015, and was coming off a season in which he was limited to 10 games by a foot injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve and required foot surgery. He finished last year with just 26 tackles, two sacks, five tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits (second-most on the team) and 14 quarterback pressures (tied for third).
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Those numbers certainly weren’t awful, but they were down from 2017, when Daniels 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 and earned his first Pro Bowl selection.
“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,” first-year head coach Matt LaFleur said. “You always want to keep good players. Unfortunately, that’s part of this business. There’s tough decisions that you have to make.”
Daniels did not immediate reply to a text message or to a Twitter direct message seeking comment Wednesday evening.
Speaking at a charity event he held earlier in the week where he and his wife, Heaven, distributed back-to-school backpacks to local children, Daniels gave no indication that he saw his release coming. In fact, having attended but scarcely participated in the team’s offseason organized team activity and minicamp practices while coming back from last year’s season-ending foot injury, Daniels said Monday that he was feeling good and planned to take part in the first practice of training camp with his teammates.
“My foot is coming along. You guys will see me out there on Thursday,” Daniels told WBAY-TV in Green Bay. “I’m ready to get back out there. More than ever. I’ll just leave it at that. You guys will see.”
Now, everyone will see what the defense looks like without him on the roster but more salary-cap room to work with. After signing defensive end Dean Lowry to a three-year extension Tuesday and shedding Daniels’ contract, the Packers had roughly $15 million in cap room if they wanted to get to work on an extension for up-and-coming defensive tackle Kenny Clark or inside linebacker Blake Martinez before those players hit unrestricted free agency next spring.
“This gives us the flexibility, if something comes this season that we feel we need to do, it gives us that flexibility. But even more so I think down the road, it kind of opens some things up for us,” Gutekunst said. “Kenny Clark is a dominant player in the NFL, and we would certainly like to get that (extension) done at some point.”