When the Pittsburgh Steelers inked veteran interior offensive lineman James Daniels to a three-year, $26.5 million deal in free agency, they knew they were getting a solid building block for the future on a revamped offensive line.
Turns out, they knew they were getting one heck of a deal on a 24-year-old lineman with more than 50 career starts, too.
Make no mistake though; that’s exactly what the Daniels deal is: one heck of a bargain. According to Pro Football Focus’s Brad Spielberger, Daniels’ contract is the Steelers’ best one, and one of the best in the AFC as a whole.
“There is a degree of projection here, but James Daniels has a lot of above-average film on tape for a player who will still be just 24 years old in Week 1 of 2022. Entering his fifth season, Daniels is just nine months older than the quarterback he’ll eventually be protecting in 2022 first-round rookie Kenny Pickett,” Spielberger writers regarding his selection of Daniels’ contract as the Steelers’ best. “Daniels has spent time at all three spots along the interior in his NFL career, finally sticking at right guard — where he’s projected to start for the Steelers in 2022. He is coming off a career-best 71.0 grade, and if you remove Weeks 1-3 as he got his legs under him for the first time ever playing right guard, he earned a 75.8 grade the rest of the way, with grades above 70.0 as a run blocker and a pass blocker.
“This signing is betting on traits and talent now that Daniels has finally found a home at right guard, and there’s still room for much more growth. He’s younger than five players taken in this year’s draft class.”
It’s remarkable to think that Daniels is just 24 years old and has all that experience under his belt, not only at right guard — where he’s projected to play in Pittsburgh, but at center and left guard as well.
Handing out just $8.5 million in guarantees for a player of Daniels’ caliber is quite the steal overall, considering the inflated contracts being handed out to offensive linemen in recent seasons as the position takes on more and more importance each and every season.
Getting a guy like Daniels on an affordable contract like the Steelers did this offseason was a huge win for the organization as a whole as it aims to rebuild the offensive line on the fly. Along with Daniels, veteran Mason Cole was signed to a three-year deal in free agency, while right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was retained on a three-year deal as well, providing the Steelers with three sound veterans to work with under first-year offensive line coach Pat Meyer.
Should Daniels get to stick at right guard and really have a positional home for the first time in his career, he could really tap into his potential as a Pro Bowl caliber offensive lineman, giving the Steelers a significant building block on the interior moving forward in a new era for the black and gold, all while being on a great contract overall.