A recent post by Mike Sando of The Athletic now suddenly has several fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers discussing starting veteran guard James Daniels ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. Specifically, fans are now suddenly discussing the likelihood of Daniels being traded or released in the near future. Let’s dig deeper into all of this concerning Daniels and what was recently written about him on this lazy Saturday afternoon.
For starters, Sando’s recent post centered around what he’s hearing from various NFL executives around the league concerning all 32 teams and thus not just the Steelers. When it comes to the Steelers, specifically, Sando wrote that some NFL executives “have wondered” if Daniels could be traded or released this offseason on the heels of the team adding guards Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig in free agency a few weeks ago. For proper context, below is the exact paragraph about Daniels from Sando’s post.
“Adding two guards raised questions about the future of 2022 offseason addition James Daniels, who is scheduled to earn $8.25 million in salary. Daniels could remain at right guard with Seumalo at left guard and Herbig as a swing player. Some wondered if Daniels could be traded or released. Could center be his best position?”
Let’s first start dissecting this by declaring that what Sando wrote seems like mostly speculation from one or a few NFL executives around the league. In summation, what Sando wrote shouldn’t be considered anything more than speculation at this point.
Moving forward, let the record show that Daniels was easily one of the Steelers top two offensive linemen in 2022, along with center Mason Cole, which easily made him the team’s best guard. Like the rest of his 2022 Steelers offensive line counterparts, Daniels remained healthy in his first season in Pittsburgh, and he played every offensive snap to boot.
A little more than a year ago, Daniels signed a three year, $26.5 million contract with the Steelers that included him earning a total of $10 million in 2022. He’s now scheduled to earn $8.25 million in 2023. Daniels’ average yearly value is $8,833,333 and based on his 2022 play, is very fair. If cut or traded prior to June 1, the Steelers would save just $5,333,332 in 2023 salary cap space prior to roster displacement taking place.
Considering the overall quality of the player in question here, the cap savings achieved via a cut or trade of Daniels don’t seem that significant. So with that, Daniels would likely need to be dealt for at least a third-round pick for the Steelers to achieve value for parting ways with him. Cutting him outright just seems like foolish and uneducated speculation.
Now, is there a team out there that might be willing to trade a third-round draft pick for Daniels and the two remaining years left on his current contract? I think that’s plausible and especially with this year’s draft class not looking like it’s flush with top-rated guards. In fact, this year’s center class looks a lot better on paper than the guard class does, at least from my observations, and that’s not usually the case. Because Daniels is a proven NFL guard to date, that should help his trade value, if we’re going to consider any plausibility of him being dealt soon.
Historically, the Steelers aren’t known as a team to part ways with a higher-profile, higher-earning free agent signing from a previous year. It’s not like Daniels causes problems in the locker room or off the field, either, at least from what I can tell. It seems like he’s been a model player in Pittsburgh to date and once again, he was one of their top two offensive linemen in 2022. It just doesn’t make sense for the Steelers to part ways with him this offseason.
While I guess stranger things have happened before, I fully expect Daniels to be a starter again for the Steelers in 2023 and most likely at right guard, where he played last season. I can almost guarantee you that he won’t be cut as doing that makes zero sense. If he’s jettisoned at all in the coming weeks, it would likely be via a trade during the draft and I have a really hard time envisioning that happening as we sit here right now.
Is it possible that the NFL executive, or executives, that Sando wrote about confused Daniels with fellow Steelers guard Kevin Dotson? I obviously don’t know for sure. That said, Dotson is a lot more likely to be a former member of the Steelers this offseason than Daniels is. In fact, I won’t be shocked if Dotson is dealt during the 2023 NFL Draft. Conversely, I’ll be stunned if Daniels is dealt during the draft.
In closing, should the NFL executive or executives speculation about Daniels somehow wind up being correct, the Steelers guard depth chart, pending any draft picks being added to it, would consist of Seumalo, Herbig, Dotson, Kendrick Green, and William Dunkle. Outside of Seumalo and Herbig, that’s not a great looking depth chart and even with a rookie drafted outside of the first round being added to it. That’s yet another reason why I don’t think Daniels is going anywhere this offseason.