If you would have asked me at the onset of free agency to take a guess at which team had just signed a free-agent interior offensive lineman who was only 24-years old and had 48 career starts to his name, I’d like to think the Steelers would have been my first answer.
That’s exactly what the Steelers did on Tuesday when it was reported that they had reached a deal with James Daniels on a three-year, $26.5 million contract.
Those are the Steelers that I know. That’s the kind of move I normally expect them to make in free agency—think Mike Mitchell, Ladarius Green and Steven Nelson.
The only difference in 2022 is the amount of cap space Pittsburgh has to work with, and when it comes to that, bringing in Daniels, and also fellow interior lineman Mason Cole, sort of feels like what the Chargers did last offseason when they went about rebuilding their offensive line.
The cap-strapped Steelers were mostly frustrated bystanders last offseason when guard Matt Feiler was lost to Los Angeles in that aforementioned offensive line rebuild.
What a difference a year makes, right? Now you can sleep a little easier knowing the Steelers have added a couple of youngsters to their offensive line, especially Daniels who seems to have only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of as an interior lineman in the National Football League. Daniels is a 2018 second-round pick out of Iowa, which means he’s not chopped liver in the pedigree department. He has yet to reach Pro Bowl or All-Pro status, but I’m not really worried about that, nor am I ruling it out.
I just like Daniels’ versatility and the fact that he’s been a full-time starter since his rookie season when healthy (he did miss 11 games in 2020 due to a torn pectoral muscle). I’m also digging the fact that Daniels was one of the higher-ranked free agents on the board, even if the move felt less splashy than the signing of Mitch Trubisky or Myles Jack.
After the excitement of the Trubisky signing has waned a bit, it was nice to see the Steelers get back down to more normal business. Yes, there was a bit of panic after inking Chukwuma Okorafor to a similar three-year deal to continue to be Pittsburgh’s right tackle for the foreseeable future, but, big picture, I like how the Steelers have addressed their offensive line.
Will Daniels ever be a Pro Bowl interior lineman? I can’t say, but simply being solid and consistent would be an upgrade over what we’ve seen with the offensive line in recent years.
Will Cole wind up being the starting center over Kendrick Green in 2022? If he is, hopefully, it’s on merit. If Cole is not, that will likely mean that Green made a huge leap in his second season and won the job in training camp, which would, as a byproduct, create some excellent interior depth along the line.
I don’t know if or when the Steelers will ever be done addressing their offensive line, but I’ve always said it wasn’t going to happen overnight.
Finally, even if the Steelers aren’t finished with retooling their offensive line, the unit looks much better right now than it did last March.
It's hard to argue with that.