The Green Bay Packers have been consistently good over the past decade for two big reasons: they draft good players and then re-sign them to long-term contracts.
It really sounds very simple. But, trust me, it’s hard to do. Yet, Packers general manager Ted Thompson has had great success with his team-building philosophy, he just needs to keep applying the same methods, which would mean re-signing third-year defensive end Mike Daniels, sooner rather than later.
It’s no secret that Daniels is a stud. The former fourth-round pick out of the University of Iowa back in 2012, has turned into one of the top 3-4 defensive ends and inside pass-rushers in the league. Last season, he was ranked eighth by Pro Football Focus among 3-4 defensive ends. That was thanks to a stellar campaign put together by the former Hawkeye that included six sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 24 quarterback hurries.
Outside of Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, Daniels is the other essential cog in the front seven and he is unquestionably the best defensive lineman on Green Bay’s roster. Daniels has developed into a solid run stuffer and is no longer just a situational pass rusher as he was most of his first two seasons. He makes plays against the run and his quick first step and burst to the ball-carrier is unique. He is probably one of the true difference-makers on the Packers defense and as he enters his contract season, it’s time for Green Bay to make an investment.
It’s extremely difficult to find good interior pass rushers and while Datone Jones has shown flashes of brilliance, he hasn’t proven yet that he can be an every down player. Daniels has and if he puts together another great season in 2015, the price tag will only go up.
Yes, the Packers were able to keep Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga at below-market deals this offseason and also kept Sam Shields by re-signing him on the eve of NFL free agency in 2014. But, in all three of those instances, there were times when it looked like the player could sign elsewhere. And that is not something the Packers want to go through with Daniels.
Out of the 2012 draft class, the one in which the Packers went all-in on defense, Daniels, Casey Hayward and Nick Perry are the three guys left standing. Perry has been decent, but hurt way too often. He needs a breakout season or his days in Green Bay may be done. Likewise for Hayward, who has excelled when on the field and has every opportunity to be the starting corner opposite Shields. But, as talented as Hayward and Perry are and as many flashes as they have shown, this season will be the true test. And if they fail to emerge or stay healthy, the only real productive defender from the 2012 class will be Daniels.
And with the huge steps forward that Daniels has taken, coupled with the fact that the Packers have a good looking window to contend for the Super Bowl, it makes sense to lock up Daniels long-term, as soon as possible. Green Bay has the money needed to do a deal with Daniels, even one in the $25-30 million range, so the Packers should just do it. They know what kind of player he is, so really the only thing that will happen by waiting, is that the cost will go up.
So why wait and allow for the possibility of one of your best defenders slipping through your fingers in free agency next offseason – I am not Ted Thompson — but I would want to avoid that scenario, which is why signing Daniels now makes perfect sense.