GREEN BAY – The release of Mike Daniels has turned the leadership of the Packers' defensive line over to Kenny Clark and newly re-signed Dean Lowry.
General Manager Brian Gutekunst made that clear late Wednesday, and he's confident the veteran duo will live up to his expectations.
"Kenny and Dean, these guys are veterans now. This is their time to take some things on," Gutekunst said in discussing the release of Daniels, a 2017 Pro Bowler, on the eve of training camp.
"Those are two pillars, looking at the future, two guys who are going to anchor that defensive line."
Part of that future was addressed earlier this week when the Packers signed Lowry to a multi-year contract extension. The fourth-year pro and former fourth-round draft pick from Northwestern showed with more extensive playing time at the end of 2018 that his game was on the rise and still may not have peaked.
"He's a steady Eddie," Gutekunst said. "He's consistently improved from the time we got him. He played the most snaps we've asked him to play last year and he handled it very well.
"He's really worked himself into being a really good NFL football player. He's very reliable and dependable."
Meanwhile, the former first-round pick in Clark was a Pro Bowl alternate a year ago who likely would have gone to the annual all-star game if not for a late-season injury. Also entering his fourth year, Clark is a primary target for a contract extension of his own given the window the Packers have with his fifth-year option already exercised for 2020.
Gutekunst didn't speak about the salary cap ramifications specifically, but he did say the release of Daniels provides "flexibility" moving forward.
"Kenny Clark is a dominant player in the NFL," Gutekunst said. "We'd certainly like to get (a new contract) done at some point."
As for Daniels, Gutekunst thanked him for always being a true pro in his seven years with the Packers. A move with Daniels had been in the works, but it wasn't made sooner due to a couple of issues – Daniels' rehab from a 2018 foot injury that landed him on injured reserve, and trade talks with other clubs that ultimately didn't result in a deal.
"Mike's a good player, and you never want to see a good player walk out the door," Gutekunst said, "but we have guys eager and ready to get their shot."
Those guys include young linemen Montravius Adams, Tyler Lancaster and rookie fifth-round pick Kingsley Keke. Adams was praised by the defensive coaching staff for a strong offseason, Lancaster was a pleasant surprise as an undrafted rookie a year ago who kept earning playing time, and Keke joins fellow draft pick Rashan Gary as additional options up front for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Gary, along with veteran free-agent signee Za'Darius Smith, could move around from outside linebacker to anywhere on the interior depending on Pettine's plans and packages.
Add to that another outside linebacker in Preston Smith and safety Adrian Amos as new starters, with last year's first-round pick in Jaire Alexander headlining a young cornerback group, and Gutekunst in conjunction with Pettine has dramatically reshaped Green Bay's defense in just two years.
"Together we've been able to change the pieces we had on defense to fit more what (the coaches) want to do," Gutekunst said. "I've always had a mindset that goes back 2-3 years that we needed to get bigger, longer, more explosive.
"I'm excited about our defense. We've got a long road to go, a lot of work to do to come together as a team. It'll take those guys working and coming together as a team to be good, but we like the pieces we have."