When the 2021 season began, most people were certain which pending Chicago Bears free agents were likely to get new contracts going into 2022. Bilal Nichols was one. Maybe Allen Robinson. Last but not least was James Daniels. The former 2nd round pick was playing his best football prior to his pectoral injury in 2020. Though he was shifting to right guard this past season, most figured he’d settle in just fine and continue to improve.
That assumption proved to be false. After a difficult first three games, Daniels went on a nine-game run where he allowed just 11 total pressures on the quarterback. Everything pointed to him racking up those dollars for a new contract. Then the bottom fell out. He allowed 18 pressures over the final five games, finishing the season with 39 total including three sacks and four QB hits. All career-highs.
Not a great time to have your worst season as a pro.
Combined with the pending arrival of a new GM and coaching staff, one has to wonder if Daniels is even a lock to return. Though he is a former 2nd round pick, it wasn’t for the incoming regime. There is almost no way the Bears are going to give him top guard money. Given how poorly the offensive line played, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see several changes. Bob McGinn of Go Long TD spoke to scouts around the NFL. They were surprised at Daniels’ regression and fear he may have already peaked.
As a rookie, he was voted the best LG in the division. Since then, there was the move to center and then sustained inconsistency following the move back to guard. “He couldn’t do it at center,” said one scout. “I think the issue was making the calls. He went to guard and showed some lateral redirect in pass pro, but there’s just something missing. He’s not an overly powerful guy. He’s a low-end starter. I thought he was going to be a good starter but he never really got to that level.”
Given how limited the Bears are in salary cap space this offseason, it is fair to wonder if they’ll be interested in giving him any sort of significant contract. This may come down to what the man himself wants. There is a strong chance that Daniels is seeking a big payday. There is also a strong chance another team might be willing to give it to him. When examining his past two years though, it is difficult to see him as a long-term solution at this point.
It's no highlight, but watch #99 (Al Woods) pick off James Daniels using JP Holtz' motion — drives him back, stands him up INTO the TE, then calmly makes the play once he "sheds" his blocker.
Straight up scary every time I watch it. pic.twitter.com/JZR02I3mwe
— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) December 30, 2021
James Daniels’ fate rests with the next regime
The Bears should have a new GM and head coach in place by the end of the month at the absolute latest. This should give them a solid two months to evaluate their roster and determine who should be kept and who can be let go. Daniels is going to be one of those toughest conversations. While he had a rough finish to 2021, the reality is this team has few viable options for their offensive line. It feels like their entire interior needs addressing while young tackles Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom still have lots to prove.
They can’t possibly replace all five starters from last year in one offseason. Some sort of stability is needed. This is why there is a strong case for keeping James Daniels. He is still only 24-years old. Plenty of prime seasons still to play if he stays healthy. Perhaps in a more comprehensible offense under coaches that know what they’re doing, he can rebound. What it comes down to is price.
Would he be willing to take a one-year prove-it deal?
As stated earlier, it depends on what his market will be. If no offers materialize that he considered good enough value, he may bet on himself in 2022. It wouldn’t be the first time a young player has done that. Much of it will also depend on whoever the Bears hire as their new offensive line coach. If Daniels doesn’t fit the type he is looking for, then a change becomes inevitable.