Interior offensive lineman James Daniels is exactly the kind of free agent signing that the Pittsburgh Steelers like to make. Still very young, but also very experienced, he is still writing his story, and I imagine they believe that he has the potential to grow substantially. Guys like James Farrior would fit this description.
But he doesn’t just have the resume of a typical Steelers free agent. He also has the demeanor. He comes into the building ready to earn everything that he feels he will be able to accomplish. And that starts with establishing himself, and trust in him from his peers and coaches, before he takes on a larger role.
“I would say that, currently, right now, I’m not in a leadership role”, he told reporters yesterday during his media availability session. “Once I earn the respect of the veterans on the team—which that’s my first goal when I come in, is to earn the veterans’ respect, earn the coaches’ respect, Coach T’s respect—then I’ll develop, then I’ll get into a leadership role”.
The four-year starter on the Chicago Bears’ offensive line now owns the largest contract the Steelers have ever given to an outside compensatory free agent, even if it’s not a high bar to clear by most teams’ standards. He signed a three-year, $26.5 million deal, topping the $25.5 million contract signed by Steven Nelson in 2019.
And despite owning 48 starts over four years, including 17 a year ago, he won’t even turn 25 until September. The former second-round pick will be a plug-and-play starter, but he intends to be more than that on and off the field.
“Me being a leader is just, one thing is, when you have a younger player, I want them to be able to look at me and say, ‘James is always doing it right. James is working hard. James is always on time. If I need help watching film, I can ask James how to do it’”, he said. “I just want to be that guy that younger players than me, or even older players than me, can just ask me questions and just look at me and show that I’m always doing the right thing”.
Instilling those sorts of qualities is one of the reasons that the Steelers brought in Trai Turner last season after they released David DeCastro, who now certainly appears to be retired. He is now the most experienced offensive lineman, even though he is still quite young himself, and younger than some of the others (he is younger than Kevin Dotson, for example, though Chukwuma Okorafor is actually younger by a month).
Obviously, his story isn’t written yet, but the Daniels signing has the makings of another Steelers free agent success story, finding a young and budding player and getting him for cheaper than he will shortly prove to be worth as you find him on his upswing. Here’s to hoping his deal looks like one of the best bargains at the position two years from now.