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Where will Mike Daniels be in a year?

4/23/2015

GREEN BAY, Wis. – A year from now, Mike Daniels might be standing in Randall Cobb's shoes, talking about his new contract with the Green Bay Packers as offseason workouts begin.

Or he might be like Tramon Williams, starting anew in another NFL city.

Either way, the defensive tackle reported for the start of the offseason program on Monday trying to go about it with a clear head even though he's entering the final year of his rookie contract.

"All of that is just a distraction," Daniels said. "I'm here to play football. I'm here to get better. I'm here to watch film, relearn the defense, get bigger, faster, stronger. All that [contract] stuff, that's nothing but a huge distraction. The instant people start putting a focus on something like that, that's when their play starts to suffer. And I don't have time for my play to suffer."

Cobb, who re-signed with the Packers for four years and $40 million in March, knows quite a bit about what Daniels will go through this season. He admitted early last season that his pending free agency weighed on his mind, and he's relieved that it's over.

"Just to focus on football and not have to worry about answering questions or thinking about it too much," Cobb said. "Just going out there and doing what I do and practicing and preparing to get better."

Daniels should be – and probably is – the priority for the Packers' 2016 free-agent class, which also includes cornerback Casey Hayward, outside linebacker Mike Neal and tight end Andrew Quarless. The fourth-round pick from Iowa has become a bigger part of coordinator Dom Capers' defense each season. Last year, he led all Packers' defensive linemen in snaps played, tackles and sacks. His 5.5 sacks ranked third on the team.

The defensive line has a chance to be even better this year with the return of B.J. Raji, who missed all of last season because of a torn biceps tendon. Not only did the Packers bring back Raji but they also re-signed his fill-in, Letroy Guion.

"Those two guys, it's always good to have two other older guys, that have been around, that have played a lot of football and what they bring to the weight room, practice, the locker room," Daniels said. "That's something that money can't buy. So, I'm really happy I get to play with those guys again."

The Packers tend to keep their free-agent priorities, especially guys coming off their first contracts, like they did with Cobb and tackle Bryan Bulaga this offseason.

But Daniels also knows that's no guarantee. When he walked in the locker room on Monday, he couldn't help but notice the nameplates – like Williams (who signed with the Cleveland Browns), Davon House (Jacksonville Jaguars), A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones (both released) – that have come down since the end of last season.

"That's tough," Daniels said. "But that's just the nature of the business. You just named good, quality guys that can play football. It's tough, but it's just something that comes with the business. This is my fourth year, and I think three years ago I might have been a little more shocked by it, but still, when you walk in here and you don't see those familiar faces, it's still a bit of a shock."