Surprise: Packers Release DL Mike Daniels
The Packers released their longest-tenured defensive player, lineman Mike Daniels on Wednesday.
In his opening press conference of training camp, head coach Matt LaFleur was asked whether the move was a surprise to him. “There’s never a decision made on personnel that’s a surprise by me,” LaFleur replied.
Daniels, 30, has been with the team since 2012. Only Mason Crosby, Aaron Rodgers, and Bryan Bulaga joined Green Bay before Daniels.
The surprising move comes less than twelve hours after the Packers announced a contract extension for defensive lineman Dean Lowry.
Salary cap implications of Mike Daniels’ release
The move creates an additional $8.3 million in salary cap space this season. Daniels was set to carry a cap hit of approximately $10 million, and releasing him adds $2 million in dead cap the Packers are unable to use.
If there’s a bright side to be found from the release, it may indicate the team is working to retain the trio of 2016 draft picks set to become free agents next offseason: defensive tackle Kenny Clark, linebacker Blake Martinez, and pass rusher Kyler Fackrell.
Clark is the most obvious candidate for an extension. Seven years younger than Daniels, the Packers exercised their fifth-year option on Clark’s contract that keeps him in Green Bay through the 2020 season at a cap number of $9.45 million. An extension struck this season – where Clark is scheduled to make just under $2 million – would likely bring his cap number lower in 2020.
So who plays defensive line now?
The Packers will enter training camp with Clark and Lowry alongside a collection of developing players with three or fewer years of experience: Montravius Adams, James Looney, Fadol Brown, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster, Deon Simon, and Eric Cotton. Coaches have also suggested outside linebackers Rashan Gary and Za’Darius Smith will see reps on the defensive line this season.
An injury forced Daniels out of Green Bay’s final six games last year, and Adams, Brown and Lancaster all appeared to excel at times down the stretch. Brown in particular has been an intriguing name to watch – the defensive coaches were impressed by his ability to pick up the defense after joining the team midseason.
Keke stands to benefit the most from Daniels’ release. The rookie fifth-round pick faced an uphill battle to make the roster – the Packers carried just five defensive lineman to start 2018. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery certainly knows Keke – he played at Texas A&M, where Montgomery briefly worked on new head coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff last offseason.