The cheers started the instant Mike Daniels stepped into the Green Bay Packers’ locker room for the first time after signing his four-year, $42 million extension on Monday morning.
The celebrating didn’t stop until the fourth-year defensive lineman arrived in the weight room for his usual workout where a horde of teammates quickly mobbed him. Defensive back and former Iowa teammate Micah Hyde was the first to converge, draping himself over the back of his long-time teammate.
Daniels, true to form, tried not to smile. He didn’t have to. The glow radiating from Daniels’ face told the story of a two-star college recruit who had been told his entire football career that he’s too small. This was more than a contract. It was vindication.
“He came in today and we’re all yelling in the locker room,” Hyde said. “He walked into the weight room and there was a group of us jumping all over him for like a minute. He’s trying not to smile, but he’s happy.”
It's rare for a deal to get done this close to the end of the regular season. Daniels has started all 13 games this season and was going to cash in this March on the shoulders of another strong year. Still, he told his agent, Brian Mackler, that he wanted to stay in Green Bay throughout the ebb and flow of negotiations.
Daniels also instructed him to keep him out of the discussions until the two sides were close to a deal. Conversations heated up this past week before “lightning struck” Monday. He came in, signed the contract and immediately went about his preparation for Sunday’s game in Oakland.
The decision to remain in Green Bay was simple for Daniels, who maintains a year-round residence in the area. He also recalls conversations with veterans who told him how lucky he was to start his NFL career in Green Bay when he arrived as a fourth-round pick in 2012.
Daniels took that message to heart.
“My agent called me, gave me the lay, and had to agree with him,” Daniels said. “I told him I wanted to be in Green Bay. I want to be with this team. This team is in it every year. It's a great, historic franchise. We had quite a few vets from other teams, free agents, my rookie year, and all they kept saying to us rookies were, 'Wow, you guys you don't understand how fortunate you are to start your careers off in Green Bay.' Why would I want to go anywhere else? So my agent, I told him 'Make sure we're still in Green Bay,' and he did.”
Daniels, 26, has improved in each of his four seasons with the Packers. He’s already matched his career high for tackles (41) with three games left in the regular season and his 18 sacks are second on the team only to five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews since 2012.
He's second on the team in both quarterback hits (12) and pressures (19), according to the coaching statistics.
“You see it with the contract he got that he’s one of the top players on our team – not just defense, but the entire team,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “They paid him like that and he definitely deserves it. I’ve been around Mike these last four years and seen the hard work he put in since Day 1 when we got here in 2012 until now (and) the strides he’s made as a football player – not just as a football player but as a person and as a leader.”
As gratifying as the commitment was, it meant even more to Daniels to see how his teammates reacted to it. The security of a $12 million signing bonus is humbling, but the moment with his teammates is what he'll remember most.
“That just goes to show me the impact I’ve had on my teammates’ lives,” Daniels said. “The fact that they’re that happy for me, that just lets me know I have to keep giving my all for these guys. I could see it. It was genuine. It was very genuine their excitement. I’m just thankful that my teammates have that relationship with me.”
Daniels repeated several times that nothing changes for him. His goal is to win “Super Bowls with this team.” Each day, he still carries the same chip on his shoulder that he brought into the NFL and feels like the defense has the necessary pieces to be a force in 2016 and beyond.
“I’m still pissed. That’s never going to change,” Daniels said. “It’s just how I approach the game, it’s how I play. The fact that I signed a contract doesn’t’ change the fact that I got overlooked in high school, doesn’t change the fact that I was consistently called short coming out of the draft. I’m not strong, I can’t play the run and all this other stuff. It doesn’t change the fact that I had to grind to get to where I’m at. Success is just a product of the work I’m doing. I’ll just keep on working.”