GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t need to say it because his actions spoke louder than words.
But he said it anyway after adding four major pieces to his defensive front seven this offseason.
“Not a coincidence, there’s no doubt,” Gutekunst said of the athletic traits of free agents Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and draft picks Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke. “These are big men with length and power and speed. I felt we needed to get bigger in the front, and we have. Those are the body types we’re looking for.”
Just look at their height, weight and arm length:
» Rashan Gary, 6-foot-4 1/2, 277 pounds, 33 3/4 inches
» Kingsley Keke, 6-2 1/2, 288, 34 1/2
» Z’Darius Smith, 6-4 1/2, 272, 32 5/8
» Preston Smith, 6-5, 265, 34
Now pair them with some of the existing players upfront:
» Kenny Clark, 6-3, 314, 32 ½
» Dean Lowry, 6-6, 296, 31
» Montravius Adams, 6-3 1/2, 304, 32 3/4
» Fadol Brown, 6-4 282, 35
» Deon Simon, 6-4, 332, 33
The one guy conspicuously missing is the former heart and soul of the Packers’ front seven, Mike Daniels. At 6-foot-0½, 310 pounds, Daniels, even with adequate arm length of 32½ inches, just doesn’t fit the model Gutekunst has set for his defensive linemen.
And so, it wouldn’t be surprising to find Daniels on the trading block.
He is entering the final year of a four-year, $42 million contract extension signed in 2015 and the Packers are probably going to move on from him next year. Clark is their anchor in the middle now and either this year or next, he’s going to be signed to a lucrative multi-year extension that will far eclipse what Daniels got four years ago.
The axiom “You can’t have too many defensive linemen” holds true for the Packers as it does for every NFL team, but the way the numbers line up right now it would be worth the gamble to see if they could get something in return for Daniels.
There just aren’t enough snaps to go around and someone is going to get cheated.
It can’t be Clark, whose trajectory is pointed toward stardom. It can’t be either of the Smiths, both of whom were paid a handsome sum to play multiple positions across the line of scrimmage, including defensive tackle in the nickel package, a spot where Daniels has seen most of his action.
It can’t be Gary because he’s the No. 12 pick in the draft and his athletic ability is so off the charts, it would be a crime to keep him on the bench. It’s possible a reportedly slightly torn labrum might worsen, but he can always wear a brace that would allow him to continue playing if that were to occur.
“He’s a really versatile player, kind of like Preston and ‘Z’ that we added,” Gutekunst said. “He can do a number of different things up and down the line of scrimmage. Obviously, he’s got premier speed off the edge. He’s able to bend the corner, he plays with length and power. He’s also going to be able to kick inside and rush inside.
“So, I don’t think you can ever have enough of those guys.”
Nor can you keep them off the field.
DRAFT BIO: Rashan Gary
DRAFT BIO: Darnell Savage Jr.
Such probably is the case for Lowry and Adams, the latter of whom started to flash at the end of the year and is in position to make a big jump. Lowry doesn’t have the skills some of the others do, but he was around the quarterback almost as much as Clark and played adequately against the run.
If Keke, a fifth-round pick, is as physically mature as the Packers think he is, it might be hard to keep him off the field as well.
"Honestly, this kid is so unique,” Southwest area scout Charles Walls said, “I think whatever the coaches want him to do, he can do with his body type. He's just a broad man with plenty of room to grow. He's got good muscle mass on him. He can be whatever weight we want him to be and play whatever position we want him to on the D-line."
Tyler Lancaster and Fadol Brown can eat up some snaps as well and Simon could give both a run for their money in training camp given his size and potential to clog up the middle. Stopping the run is something the Packers are going to have to do better this year after finishing 22nd in rushing yards allowed last season.
Over the past two seasons, Daniels, 29, has been an active pass rusher, although he should have more than seven sacks for the number of times he has been around the quarterback. He fashions himself as someone who can be featured all over the defensive front and play regularly in the base 3-4 front, but he’s mostly a pass rusher.
His strength is his bull rush and there are too many times he gets away from it, thinking he can do anything a long-levered, quick-twitch insider rusher can do. He plays with fire in his belly, but when it comes to being a leader veterans such as Muhammad Wilkerson, Ricky Jean Francois and Quinton Dial have filled that void more than he has.
How Daniels is going to handle giving up snaps to Gary, Keke and the two Smiths must be considered. Even though he has missed eight games over the last two seasons due to injury – including six to a foot injury last year – Daniels is used to playing a lot of snaps and in a contract year might not be thrilled to find Gary, Adams, Keke and others taking away playing time.
In the past, he has resisted attempts to lessen his number of snaps and no matter what he’s not going to be playing as much this year as in previous years.
There should be teams interested in Daniels because he can still pressure the quarterback, and if Gutekunst can get a draft pick for him that would exceed what he might get in a compensatory pick after Daniels leaves in free agency – like he did with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix last year – then this might be the time to do it.
The future is Clark and the four guys Gutekunst added this offseason along with some combination of the others.
All weekend you heard Gutekunst and his scouts talk about adding players with versatility, guys who can rush inside or outside, play over guards, tackles or centers and be used to create physical mismatches.
Daniels is a nickel rusher who if used solely that way can still be productive. But he’s not the multi-purpose defender that has become the standard in Mike Pettine’s defense.
If there’s someone out there interested in him and willing to take on his $8.1 million in salary, the Packers should strongly consider trading him. He just is not part of their long-term future. Gutekunst showed that again with the type of players he selected in the draft.