GREEN BAY – On the eve of Matt LaFleur’s first training camp as Green Bay Packers head coach, general manager Brian Gutekunst released veteran defensive lineman Mike Daniels to clear snaps on the field for a versatile group of younger players and salary-cap space for a contract extension with Kenny Clark.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said trade talks fell through for the 30-year-old Daniels, which contributed to the release of the eighth-year veteran Wednesday morning. The move saves the Packers $8,312,500, giving the club $15.29 million under the cap with which to work.
"It gives us a little bit more flexibility," Gutekunst said of the cap savings. "This is ever-changing and we're evaluating our roster from day-to-day and this gives us the flexibility if something comes this season that we feel we need to do. But even more so down the road and years to come. It kind of opens up some things for us."
As for extending Clark, specifically, Gutekunst said, "Kenny Clark is a dominant player in the NFL and we'd certainly like to get that done at some point."
The Packers have nine defensive linemen listed on the roster. The team now has one open roster spot with training camp beginning Thursday, though Gutekunst indicated he hopes to have a full 90-man group by then.
“I’ve been around Mike for a short period of time,” LaFleur said. “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. I wish him well. We feel really, really good about the group we have with Kenny Clark, with Tyler Lancaster, (Dean) Lowry, Montravius Adams, (Kingsley) Keke and Fadol Brown. Just the versatility that Rashan (Gary) and Za’Darius (Smith) bring to us. So we feel like we have a group in place that can get the job done.”
Daniels, a fourth-round draft pick out of Iowa in 2012, emerged as an impact player in 2013 with 6.5 sacks. In his first three seasons, he missed just two games and totaled 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss to earn a four-year, $42 million contract extension in 2015.
Daniels made the Pro Bowl in 2017, but the organization shifted in the type of player they looked for along the defensive front. At 6-foot-0½, 310 pounds, Daniels, even with adequate arm length of 32½ inches, was the shortest of all the linemen on the roster. In fact, the next shortest were a group of four players at 6-3.
And with Gutekunst and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine taking over at the start of 2018, it became clear the club was focusing more on not just bigger athletes inside, but those who could move to different areas along the line of scrimmage to rush the passer.
"Together we've kind of been able to change the pieces that we had on defense to fit more what they may want to do," Gutekunst said. "I don't want to speak for them but I think; I've always had the mindset – this goes back two or three years – that we needed to get bigger and longer and more explosive. There was a time when we were lining up Julius Peppers and Mike Neal on our edges and we got away from that a little bit. I think we needed to get back there and I think we've taken some steps to do that."
With the release, it was clear to the Packers' front office and coaching staff that Daniels could not fit that role and would have to be used primarily as an interior player. Daniels missed the final six games of last season with a foot injury and did not participate in on-field work this past offseason.
As a vested veteran, Daniels is not subject to waivers and is immediately able to sign with a team.
Tom Silverstein contributed to this report.