After seven strong years on the Green Bay Packers’ defensive line, veteran Mike Daniels was released by the team Wednesday, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. In 2015, Daniels was PFF’s fifth-highest graded interior defender (90.6) and was one of only seven at the position to eclipse a 90.0 overall grade. And now, he finds himself searching for a new home.
As rumors of Daniels’ potential release surfaced in late May, PFF’s Evan McPhillips explained why the Packers would be smart to keep the veteran standout around. Daniels’ 2018 campaign was shortened due to a foot injury sustained in Week 11, but he still played at a high level. Daniels finished with a 78.5 pass-rush grade which ranked ninth at his position. And his high output in previous seasons can’t be understated either. From 2015-17, Daniels had the 13th-best run-defense grade among qualifying interior defenders. In the same span, his pass-rush mark of 83.2 slotted him in eighth at his position.
At 30 years old, Daniels has plenty left in the tank despite a down year in 2018 by his standards, finishing with his lowest grade since 2014 (71.3) but still ranking 62nd among 129 interior defenders. In crunch time in 2018, he was still the formidable defender of years past. He had a pass-rush win rate of 21.2% in the fourth quarter, which ranked third among qualifying interior defenders.
So the question becomes, why would the Packers release a player who has been a consistent force and was set to earn a relatively fair base salary of $7.6 million in 2019?
The answer lies in youth, as it often does in the NFL. Dean Lowry, to be specific.
As Daniels has done throughout his career as a former fourth-rounder, Lowry has outplayed his draft stock — another former fourth-round pick — en route to 70.0-plus grades in each of his first three NFL seasons. This past season was his best yet, putting up an 80.1 run-defense grade that slotted him among the top 25% of interior defenders. Daniels made a name off run-stuffing, and Lowry has done the same, which earned him a contract extension on Tuesday totaling three years and $20.3 million.
Daniels should have no problem finding a new home before the 2019 season kicks off, but it remains to be seen at what price other NFL teams will value his talents. After Jarran Reed’s six-game suspension, Daniels could definitely see some interest from the Seattle Seahawks, but they do have standout Poona Ford waiting in the wings.
The Oakland Raiders, PFF’s worst-graded pass-rushing team and sixth-worst run-defending team in 2018, should also keep an eye out, as their best interior defenders are Maurice Hurst (72.4) and Johnathan Hankins (66.5). The New England Patriots are also notorious for snapping up veteran castaways on the cheap.
Wherever Daniels ends up, he’s got the skillset to make an impact. And it shouldn’t take long for him to find out where he’ll be taking his talents to this fall.