It's not exactly a contract year, but Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels knows the opportunity that awaits this offseason.
When the season ends, Daniels will be eligible for an extension of his rookie contract. He signed a four-year, $2.4 million contract with a $300,000 signing bonus after the Packers drafted him in the fourth round in 2012.
All rookie contracts can be extended after three years with the new collective bargaining agreement.
Daniels is the kind of "core player" the Packers usually offer an extension before the contract's final year. In his third season, he's developed into Green Bay's best defensive lineman. Daniels said he's not focusing on the future, difficult as it might be to avoid.
"All that becomes a distraction," Daniels said. "You see it with guys all the time. A guy who has an opportunity to do something, and they all the sudden have one of their worst years because they're focused on the wrong things."
Daniels clearly isn't having his worst year.
The third-year defensive end is the only Packers starter without a missed tackle. His 16 defensive stops are tied for second in the NFL for 3-4 defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus. Daniels is Green Bay's highest-graded defensive player with a plus-11.4, including a plus-7.4 in run defense, according to PFF.
Not bad for a player who was expected to be a rotational pass rusher when he entered the league.
"I love playing football in general, whether it's playing the run, rushing the passer or whatever it is," Daniels said. "People typecast me as a pass rusher, but I've always said I'm a football player. I'm going to go out there and do whatever is asked of me to do."
Daniels has good reason to be pleased. These past seven games have been the best stretch of football in his career, he said.
Daniels attributed it to natural growth. If he stays on the same track, it could lead to a salary bump next season. Even with that knowledge, Daniels said he hasn't changed his mindset.
"I had to show my worth when I got here, and you have to continue to show your worth, or else you won't have a job," Daniels said. "You see it every offseason, you see it every week. Things happen all across the NFL that's shocking. Shocking.
"So, like I said, it's just about showing your worth every day no matter what it is."
-firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood