Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
How much would you be willing to pay Daniels for a second chance?
The peak of excitement for Detroit Lions fans in 2019 may have come before the season even started. At the beginning of training camp, the Lions—THE DETROIT FREAKIN’ LIONS—were the team to somehow swoon pass-rushing defensive tackle and Pro Bowler Mike Daniels , who had just been surprisingly released by their rivals, the Green Bay Packers .
Mixed with the addition of Trey Flowers and the (hopeful) progression of young players on the defensive line like Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson and Romeo Okwara , the Lions looked to have one of the most underrated defensive fronts in the league.
But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Previously in this series: Miles Killebrew (click here ), Rashaan Melvin (click here ), Jeff Driskel (click here ), Tavon Wilson (click here ), A’Shawn Robinson (click here ), Sam Martin (click here )
Expectations before 2019
While there was undoubtedly some concern about Mike Daniels’ health—he underwent foot surgery in 2018 and wasn’t quite ready when initially signed to Detroit—the overall belief was that when he was healthy, he’d be able to bring some much-needed pass rush to the interior of the defensive line. From 2013-17, he tallied at least 4.0 sacks each season, and was considered a PFF darling when it came to pass rushing skills:
Since 2013 – Mike Daniels ranks sixth among interior d-linemen in terms of pass-rushing win percentage.
— PFF (@PFF) February 27, 2019
Not only could he help with his play, but as a veteran, he could serve a perfect mentor for a guy like Da’Shawn Hand.
Actual role in 2019
2019 Stats: 9 games (2 starts): 10 tackles, 1.0 sack
PFF Grade: 70.1 (45th of 120 qualifying DTs—20% of snaps)
Unfortunately, Daniels couldn’t shake the injury bug. He suffered another foot injury in Week 3 and missed the following five games. By the time he came back, the Lions’ season was already over. Though his play was fine when he did make an appearance, it wasn’t the same dominant Daniels that we had seen for so many years in Green Bay.
His season would end unceremoniously with an arm injury that landed him on injured reserve for the final two games of the season.
What should the Lions do with him?
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
The case for re-signing:
Daniels is a talented player. The Lions need talented players on the defensive front—especially players that are so enthusiastic about playing in Detroit. Daniels has clearly bought into everything that Matt Patricia is selling, calling him a genius the minute he was signed and leaving the season humming the same tune .
Ask anyone what the Lions’ problem on defense was last year, and they’ll rightfully tell you it was their lack of pass rush. While many narrow that problem down to inefficient edge rushers, the defensive tackles hold just as much, if not more, blame for their inability to rush the opposing quarterbacks. Daniels has been that guy for the entirety of his eight-year career, and if he can just stay healthy, the Lions would have an enthusiastic, talented player on their defensive front.
The case for letting him walk:
In the past three seasons, Daniels has played in just a total of 33 games. In other words, he’s essentially lost an entire season’s worth of games due to injuries in the past three years alone. Now crossed over into the dreaded 30s, it’s hard to imagine that problem subsiding for a year. The Lions would be wise to go younger at the position and, in truth, more hope lies in Da’Shawn Hand despite his own battles with injuries.
Like many of these conundrums, this will come down to price. The Lions gave Daniels a one-year, $9.1 million contract last year, and it’s safe to say they won’t give him that again after his disappointing 2019.
But considering Daniels’ enthusiasm for Patricia and Detroit, it’s possible the defensive tackle will understand his own limitations and take a cheap, incentive-laden deal. If the Lions can somehow make that happen, they should absolutely considering bringing him back. If they can bring him back for a cap hit around the $3-4 million range, another one-year deal would make enough sense to pull the trigger.