Brian Gutekunst has made some great moves in his first two years as Green Bay Packers general manager, but releasing Mike Daniels is not one of them.
A surprise? Indeed. A strange decision? Absolutely.
But here’s another way to describe it — a terrible move.
Daniels is an integral part of the Packers defense, and has been for over half a decade. Not just for his play on the field, but also his leadership. When the play of his teammates fell well short of expectations, Daniels stepped up and made important plays.
Following one of the team’s most exciting offseasons in recent memory, one that saw Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, and Darnell Savage Jr. all join the defense, Mike Pettine’s unit could at long last become a strength. And Daniels would’ve been a key part of that.
Interior pressure is key to Pettine’s scheme. According to Pro Football Focus, since the 2013 season, Daniels ranks sixth among defensive linemen for pass-rushing win percentage. Since then, he has 27 sacks and 66 quarterback hits.
And that’s despite the fact Daniels has often been asked to take on double teams, in turn freeing up room for his teammates to go after the quarterback or stop the run.
ESPN’s Rob Demovsky noted that a big salary and his recent injury history factored into the Packers’ decision.
In terms of salary, the team will make a saving of $8.3 million, according to Demovsky.
But if the Packers have put themselves in a salary cap mess and needed to cut Daniels, that’s completely their own fault, and doesn’t justify releasing one of their best defensive players ahead of the new season.
Daniels’ importance to the defense makes taking on the cap hit worth it. He could help the team make the Super Bowl. And the Packers wouldn’t have to worry about his salary next season as his contract would’ve been up after 2019.
Daniels has missed some time due to injury over the past two years. But we’re talking about eight games missed, not 25. And prior to the 2017 season, Daniels hadn’t missed a game in four straight years.
In a defense full of talented young players, the Packers also need their veterans to step up and lead the way. Well, Gutekunst may have just released the team’s most vocal leader.
The Packers may feel they have the depth to deal with losing Daniels, and it’s a fair point. Kenny Clark is a superstar. And with Dean Lowry extended, and Montravius Adams and Kingsley Keke, there is plenty of talent still on the roster.
But even then, one big question still remains.
What if Daniels goes on to sign with the Bears, Vikings or Lions? He’d improve each of the three divisional rivals, and would also take with him his deep understanding of Pettine’s scheme.
If Daniels signs with a division rival, will that $8.3 million be worth it?
The Packers must’ve realized back in March that keeping Daniels might be difficult following their big spending in free agency. So either it’s a move they were prepared and planned for, or they’ve made a big mistake.
But let’s take the salary out for the moment. Salary doesn’t win football games. Players do. And for a team that has gone all-in to win a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers still in his prime, releasing one of the team’s defensive leaders and most talented players looks to be a significant backwards step.