When opportunity knocked, Muir answered

There’s a great story in the Super Bowl that flies way under the radar created by megastars Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Dwight Freeney, Reggie Bush and many others. It’s about a guy I almost wouldn’t allow the Packers to sign in 2007 because the signing bonus seemed too big for someone who wasn’t drafted. That player was Colts defensive tackle Daniel Muir.

The hour or two following the NFL Draft is bedlam in war rooms around the NFL. It’s within these key moments that careers can be made or broken, often in split-second decisions. Teams are combing through players who were not drafted to fill out their rosters.

No matter what the team, it’s chaos, as scouts and coaches lobby the negotiators to sign their favorites, and the negotiators try to keep the agents on the line rather than taking calls from other teams. At the end of the day, it’s always about the money, and the largest signing bonus usually wins.

In the moments after the 2007 draft, I remember hearing about Muir, a defensive tackle from Kent State, whom a couple of our scouts were raving about. As I was trying to keep our spending down -- since it was unlikely any of these players would make the team -- the price of Muir’s bonus kept going up. Although a miniscule amount in relative standards, Muir – against my judgment -- received a team-high $15,000 bonus, one of the highest bonuses we had ever given to one of these undrafted free agents.

Muir arrived with the other group of undrafted free agents we signed in 2007 – Ryan Powdrell of USC, linebacker Juwan Simpson of Alabama, Rory Johnson of Mississippi and Larry Birdine of Oklahoma. Although I thought we had overpaid to get Muir, I had a soft spot for him because he was a native of my hometown of Washington, D.C.

Although we had an unusually large number of defensive linemen on the team (11), Muir beat the odds and made the Packers in 2007. He played in three games in 2007 and stayed with the team through the 2008 offseason to the final cuts, where he was placed on waivers after the last preseason game.

Muir was claimed on waivers by the Colts, the only Packer cut that day to get claimed. In 2008, he played 100 snaps and continued to be one of the hundreds of players around the NFL living on the thin edge of being unemployed.

What happened to Muir next is what has happened to hundreds of NFL players -- including Tom Brady and Kurt Warner -- and will happen every year to hundreds more. He seized an opportunity and he stepped up. The Colts – who obviously saw something in Muir that the Packers and other teams didn’t – released starting defensive tackle Ed Johnson in October. Muir took advantage.

Despite not starting full time, Muir is one of the team leaders in tackles, with 78. He was in the right place at the right time, and now he’s starting for the team that’s favored to win the Super Bowl.

The story of Daniel Muir is one that should resonate with every player in and out of the NFL. Except for a handful of superstars and true blue-rated players, only slim layers separate most of the talent level in the NFL. In the words of NFL scouts, many players fit in the category of “just a guy.” However, “just a guy” can become a lot more than that simply by the explosive combination of opportunity and preparation.

Muir, although a coveted player in the chaos of undrafted free agents, was buried on the Green Bay depth chart behind other heavily built defensive tackles such as Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole. He rarely played; he was just there for insurance, and when the team needed a roster spot, he was gone. Most of those players wash out from there. However, Bill Polian saw something. Muir was claimed, and opportunity knocked.

Now finishing his third season playing for minimum salary ($460,000), Muir lines up between Dwight Freeney (contract of $72 million, with $30 million guaranteed) and Robert Mathis ($30M, $12M guaranteed). This is a common look for the Colts, who are known for mixing in high-priced talent with minimum contract players throughout their team, a high/low way they have been balancing their cap for years.

Muir will certainly get a big raise as a restricted free agent this offseason and may even draw an offer sheet from a team hungry for a run-stopper. And anyone could have had him for the $15,000 I tried to not pay him.

Good for Daniel.

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