The Chicago Bears’ offensive line is beaten up. But even when it was healthy, it wasn’t held in all that high of regard by many. This isn’t to say this group wasn’t without its charm or that it didn’t have potential. However, the combination inconsistency and unproven players made it difficult to back before the season. And after seven games, putting a ton of faith in this line is a tough ask.
But it isn’t an impossible one, especially with James Daniels playing as well as he has to this point. And particularly after his most recent performance:
You shall not pass when James Daniels is blocking 😤
James Daniels vs Tampa Bay:
🔸83.0 pass blocking grade
🔹0 sacks allowed
🔸0 hits allowed
🔹1 total pressure allowed pic.twitter.com/jomITbFqMO
— PFF CHI Bears (@PFF_Bears) October 25, 2021
In a game in which Justin Fields took four sacks and six quarterback hits from the Buccaneers, it was Daniels who put up a performance that Bears fans wish the other linemen would’ve replicated. No hits. Zero quarterback sacks given up. Just one pressure allowed. Even if you consider the caveat of tackles being under more fire from pass-rushers than guards, coming away relatively unscathed after playing a Todd Bowles defense means you were doing *SOMETHING* right. And through seven games, Daniels has been doing plenty right. Because between some stellar pass-blocking and a top-10 run-block win-rate grade from ESPN, Daniels really haas it going on in the trenches.
So much so, I can’t help but think that Daniels could be playing his way into a big contract.
Whether it is with the Bears, or one of the NFL’s other 31 teams, someone will need lineman help. That’s a given. And in Daniels, we’re looking at a player who checks a fair number of boxes. Daniels, 24, checks the age box off the jump. Teams across the sports landscape continue to trend toward paying players on the younger end of the age scale in free agency. Daniels also has starting experience at three different interior offensive line positions. His time at center wasn’t memorable, but his efforts at both guard spots has been commendable. And save for his season-ending pectoral injury last year, Daniels has been a healthy player.
Let’s not overlook what Daniels brings to the table. Because, as it stands right now, the Bears’ future offensive line is in flux.
There is a fair amount of uncertainty at an awfully important position group. Daniels is set to be a free agent at year’s end, but isn’t alone in being on the cusp of free agency. Both starting tackles — Germain Ifedi and Jason Peters — are unrestricted free agents. As is swing tackle Elijah Wilkinson. Alex Bars, who has starting experience at guard and could add to it at right tackle, is a restricted free agent. Starting center Sam Mustipher is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, which means the only team he can negotiate a deal with this offseason is the Bears. Just thinking about how many new pieces the Bears could be mixing and matching makes me feel itchy.
And yet, I struggle to figure out what Daniels’ price point would be if he hits the open market.
NFL teams are willing to pay a premium for offensive linemen. But without an All-Pro nomination or Pro Bowl selection, it is tough to imagine Daniels hitting the heights someone like Joe Thuney (5/$80M with the Chiefs). But because Daniels is young and a proven starter, I can see him getting something more than Kevin Zeitler (3/$21M with Ravens), Jon Feliciano (3/$17M with Bills), or Pat Elflein (4/$13.5M with Panthers). Perhaps something like what Ereck Flowers (3/$30M from Miami) or Graham Glasgow (4/$44M from Denver) is more reasonable.
No matter how you slice it, Daniels figures to get a bigger piece of the pie if he hits free agency. Whether it’s from the Bears or someone else will be seen at some point next spring.