When a new GM takes over, the only thing that becomes predictable about a team is its unpredictability. Nobody knows what Ryan Poles has planned for the Chicago Bears. Only that he intends to get them turned in the right direction after a disappointing 2021 season. The first step in that mission is determining if any of the team’s 25 unrestricted free agents should be retained before starting the new league year. Chief among them are Allen Robinson, Bilal Nichols, and James Daniels.
Robinson is an easy guess at this point. His season was a disaster in many respects, and the wide receiver blames Matt Nagy and the former coaching staff for it. Everything points to him seeking a fresh start elsewhere. Nichols was drafted to play in a different defense, so it’s not certain whether Matt Eberflus and his staff see the 26-year old as a fit for their new 4-3 system. As for Daniels, he might be the most challenging case of the three.
On the one hand, the Bears can’t afford to let go of solid offensive linemen.
On the other, early projections are the young guard will likely earn a payday above $10 million per year. That is a lot for somebody that struggled with inconsistency throughout last season. One person encouraging the team to work something out is Gil Brandt. The Hall of Fame former executive compiled a list of one free agent every team should work to keep. For Chicago, that player was Daniels. His reasoning was…interesting.
“The former second-rounder missed most of 2020 with a torn pectoral, but he bounced back with a strong season in the final year of his rookie deal, earning the best offensive and pass-blocking Pro Football Focus grades of his career thus far while starting in all 17 contests. Re-signing Daniels will make life easier for Justin Fields.”
Now, this statement would have plenty of weight behind it under normal circumstances. Unfortunately, it seems Brandt might be working with faulty data. He says that Daniels finished with the best pass-blocking grade of his career in 2021. This is not true. According to Pro Football Focus, he had a 68.3 grade for the year. His marks in 2018 and 2019 were higher at 71.2 and 72.6, respectively. Daniels surrendered a total of 40 pressures, which tied him for ninth-worst among guards.
James Daniels didn’t earn the money he’ll be looking for
The critical issue is determining how much of that was his fault. Most of his time in the NFL was spent at left guard. That is where he has consistently played his best. However, Matt Nagy and the previous coaches chose to move him to right guard last season because of how well Cody Whitehair played at left when Sam Mustipher took over at center. It seemed logical at the time. Sadly, it seems Daniels didn’t take to the right side too well.
If the Bears were to bring him back, it would likely be at either left guard or center. Much of that hinges on what new offensive line coach Chris Morgan envisions for him. The problem is Poles doesn’t have a lot of money to work with. When listing positions he views as most important in building a successful team, guard was not even mentioned.
That may not bode well for James Daniels sticking around.
Nobody can say the 25-year old isn’t talented. He’s played some good football over the past four years. It is a matter of him never quite ascending to the mainstay status many envisioned him capable of. He never became a tone-setter. Merely a solid player content with being one of the boys. His lack of an alpha mentality along with a bloated price tag may see him gone despite Brandt’s caution.