Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: James Daniels

james daniels, bears

Lake Forest, Ill.– With the 2021 NFL season officially concluded, the Chicago Bears offseason has been ongoing for the last month, and among the big decisions to be made in 2022 are what to do regarding offensive lineman James Daniels, a 2018 second-round pick. Having completed his fourth NFL season, Daniels has become a key part of the Bears’ offensive line over the last few seasons, and at just 24-years old, Chicago is at an intriguing crossroads with Daniels.

General manager Ryan Poles has made rebuilding the offensive line a priority for the Bears going into 2022. Ultimately, the Bears’ decision on Daniels will come down to either resigning the 39th overall pick or letting Daniels walk. As a guard, Daniels has been consistent over the last few seasons and the versatility he provides being able to play any spot on the interior offensive line is certainly a reason the Bears need to bring him back at the right price but Chicago has a number of other needs that have to be addressed. It’s also quite possible that Poles may not want to pay Daniels.

With NFL free agency right around the corner, let’s breakdown what the Bears should do with Daniels.



Daniels Impact with the Bears:

Coming out of college, Daniels was lauded as a player who was both versatile and athletic. Over the last four seasons, both traits were on display, with Daniels splitting time between left and right guard, while also starting at center during the first half of the 2019 season. On screen plays, Daniels mobility was on display, as he was often the lead blocker, getting to the second level before any other offensive lineman. Considering the speed of the NFL game continues to get quicker, the Bears should value Daniels ability to get to the second level with ease in an offense that could be a run-first featuring running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert next season.

An important question to answer:

One question that’s going to hinder the Bears from bringing back Daniels is money. While money is a determining factor for the majority of free agent decisions, Daniels is young and can still get better but the Bears also have to consider which players on the roster fit the bigger picture with quarterback Justin Fields as the centerpiece.

In the NFL, when a new regime takes over, it’s often out with the old, in with the new. With Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus taking over, the Bears face a predicament: Did Daniels really show enough on tape to warrant getting a contract extension, making him a part of the Bears’ future moving forward? It’s certainly a question that needs to be considered because Poles and Eberflus

What does bringing Daniels back entail?

We mentioned earlier how bringing Daniels back is a strong possibility due to his athleticism, versatility, and age. But a major domino to tackle is his price tag.

For reference regarding what Daniels price tag could be, let’s look at the contract extensions of Cleveland Browns OL Wyatt Teller and Dallas Cowboys OL Zack Martin. Teller signed a four-year deal in 2021 worth $56.8M with $16.5M guaranteed. Martin’s contract extension came in 2018 and runs through the conclusion of the 2024 season, being a six-year deal worth $84M, with $32M guaranteed. For Chicago, Daniels price should be closer to Teller and that of Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who signed a five-year deal worth $45M in 2020.

While the Bears only have so much cap space to go around, Daniels can certainly be a part of the Bears’ long-term future under Fields, a possibility that should excite the franchise.

What does letting Daniels walk mean?

The Bears letting Daniels walk could come down to the organization believing that there is a better, long-term option available via the NFL Draft or free agency. When assessing whether or not upgrades are truly available, the Bears would need to look at the NFL Draft and hope that a rookie could immediately slide in and play at a higher level than Daniels.

Conclusion

Chicago does face a crossroads regarding Daniels. While he will be just 25 years old in September, bringing him back shouldn’t be off the table but the Bears also have to consider whether or not Daniels is really a fit for new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who will have full autonomy over the Bears offense.

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