GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Matt LaFleur opened his first training camp as Packers head coach by saying the offense is still a “work in progress.”
The Packers defense might need some attention, too.
Green Bay released former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Mike Daniels after seven seasons Wednesday, parting with one of its best players in a move that saves $8.31 million against the salary cap.
“I know he’s meant a lot to this community, this football team,” LaFleur said of Daniels. “I still think he’s a really good player. I wish him well. But we feel really, really good about the group we have.”
Daniels was due to make $8.5 million this season — $7.6 million in base salary, a $500,000 roster bonus and a $400,000 workout bonus — in the final year of a four-year, $41 million contract extension. With Daniels off the books, the Packers are now $15.3 million under the salary cap.
“I think obviously there are choices that you have to make,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “Some are more long-term choices that you have to make, looking out forward. I feel pretty good about the depth we have in our defensive line room right now, and these things are never easy. But we wanted to make sure we had some flexibility moving ahead.”
Daniels, a fourth-round pick of the Packers in in 2012, made the Pro Bowl as an alternate after the 2017 season. He missed two games that year because of a hip injury, and he finished 2018 on injured reserve after a foot injury halted his season after 10 games.
Gutekunst said other players — like defensive lineman Kenny Clark and Montravius Adams — will have to step up to fill the void left by the 30-year-old Daniels.
“Mike is a very good player, and you never want to see a good player walk out the door, but there are also guys who are eager and ready to have their shot,” Gutekunst said. “We’re excited to see what they can do.”
Green Bay drafted defensive tackle Kingsley Keke out of Texas A&M in the fifth round this year and return backups Tyler Lancaster, Fadol Brown and James Looney. The Packers also signed defensive end Dean Lowry to a three-year, $20.3 million extension this week after he had career highs in tackles (44), sacks (3) and quarterback hits (five) last season.
LaFleur said he will continue working to figure out what this team does best before it opens the season Sept. 5 on the road against rival Chicago.
“It’s taking it one day at a time,” he said. “How can we get better each and every day and along the way, again, finding out exactly what our guys do well so we can keep showcasing that and do that to play to our strengths. Because this game is about the players, there’s no doubt.”
In Green Bay, the key player is Aaron Rodgers, who at 34 is just five years younger than his new head coach. LaFleur called the two-time NFL MVP one of the most competitive players he’s ever been around.
“You can see it on a daily basis,” LaFleur said. “It’s not just on the field, it’s in the meeting room, too. I just enjoy our communication. I enjoy the challenge. He’s an extremely intelligent player that has played a lot of ball and you better know what you’re talking about.”
Rodgers threw only two interceptions in 597 pass attempts last season and compiled the second-most passing yards in his 11 years as a starter. But his 25 touchdown passes were the fewest of his career when he’s played all 16 games.
LaFleur spent last season as offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, his first time calling plays in the NFL. He takes over for Mike McCarthy, who was fired in December as the Packers headed toward a second consecutive year without a playoff berth.
Gutekunst said his early impression is that LaFleur is ready for the biggest opportunity of his young career.
“We’re just getting started here. First training camp, me and Matt,” Gutekunst said. “But the communication has been excellent since we hired Matt, on a day-to-day basis, just about certain things as the personnel guy you want to see as you go through preseason games and things like that.”
LaFleur said he anticipates rookie safety Darnell Savage being ready when practices begin Thursday after a dental procedure. Savage, the 21st overall pick out of Maryland, appears well on his way to a starting job next to Adrian Amos. Fans have already given the two safeties the “Smash and Savage” nickname.
“If we play well, it’s going to be a great nickname,” said Amos who signed with Green Bay in March after playing his first four seasons with the rival Bears.
Notes: Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said during the team’s shareholders meeting that having a regular-season game in Europe remains a goal for the franchise. The Packers will play the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 22 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a 700-mile drive from Green Bay. … LaFleur is in a walking boot for at least the next couple weeks as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in May … The Packers open their preseason slate against Houston on Aug. 8 at Lambeau Field. The two teams will hold joint practices in Green Bay Aug. 5-6.