In a move that nobody saw coming, the Green Bay Packers released standout veteran defensive end Mike Daniels.
The Green Bay Packers barely turned out a profit last year, and their sudden aggressiveness in free agency played a role in that. After suffering back-to-back losing seasons despite having one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in Aaron Rodgers, the Packers finally decided to get serious in free agency this spring.
Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos are the three key defensive upgrades for a unit that finished 22nd in the NFL last season.
But those three won’t get to benefit from playing with interior pass rushing force Mike Daniels, who was shockingly released on Wednesday morning, as reported by the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
Daniels’s release saves the Packers more than $8 million in cap space after an active offseason that saw their cap flexibility diminish, and perhaps they have a plan on using the remainder of that space. Maybe they see a bigger upgrade at another position.
Still, Daniels is one of the most established 3-4 defensive ends in the league, and while he had just two sacks in 2018 due to a foot injury, he looked like a sure-fire bounce-back candidate in 2019. After all, Daniels was still a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2017 and widely regarded as one of the most consistent defensive ends against both the run and pass.
The Packers must have plenty of faith in first-round pick Rashan Gary, who could step in as a starter for Daniels. Former third-round pick Montravius Adams will likely start across from him, with nose tackle Kenny Clark starring as the nose tackle. On paper, that should still be a solid defensive line, and Za’Darius Smith is also capable of starting as a 3-4 end.
As talented as Daniels is, this is more of a surprise than a move that dooms the Packers defense. They still have a young secondary filled with possible breakout stars, and few can match the talent they have off the edge after signing Za’Darius and Preston Smith. And if the Packers can use the additional cap space wisely, they may even be better off.
But heading into a critical 2019 in which the Packers need to have immediate success under head coach Matt LaFleur, it’s fair to question their decision to release a key veteran starter at an all-important position in late July. It seems like the Packers are high on Gary, and all eyes will certainly be on the former No. 1 overall high school player. Even if he fails to make a quick impact, the Packers new free agent signings also have the versatility to play with their hand in the dirt. Again, Za’Darius Smith may be the man to watch the closest.
Daniels should have no issues finding another gig in the NFL. His body of work speaks for itself, and there are a number of teams who could use a productive inside rusher with his insane physical strength.