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James Daniels Is Comfortable in Arthur Smith’s Offense: ‘Similar to What I Had at Iowa’

Pittsburgh Steelers right guard James Daniels compared the Steelers new offense to what he played in while in college.

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Steelers James Daniels
Pittsburgh Steelers right guard James Daniels at the Steelers OTAs on May 30, 2024 -- Ed Thompson // Steelers Now

Starting right guard James Daniels was the first big piece that the Pittsburgh Steelers added when they started to rebuild their offensive line unit a few years ago. Since then, Daniels played in and started all 32 of his appearances at the right guard position. With just a year left on his three-year deal, the Steelers already told him that no extension was coming any time soon.

While Daniels is not worried about his next payday just yet, he did see former Steelers guard Kevin Dotson hit a huge payday and left one remark regarding being a free agent guard next offseason.

“It’s a good time to be a guard in the NFL,” Daniels told Alan Saunders of Steelers Now.

For now, Daniels is focused on this season and learning the new offense that he will be a big part of. The benefit for Daniels is that Arthur Smith’s offense is very similar to the one that Daniels played in while in college at Iowa.

“I like the new offense,” Daniels said. “The offense is very similar to what [I played in] at Iowa so it’s pretty cool. I enjoyed Iowa’s offense so it is nice to play in an offense like that.”

On top of learning the offense himself, Daniels has been seen helping a lot of the younger guys, especially rookie Zach Frazier, at anything they need during the team’s OTAs and mandatory minicamp. For Daniels, helping those guys is easy because of their willingness to soak in information.

“I think [the rookies] have been good,” Daniels said. “They’ve came in and they’ve been very attentive. They have been always asking questions, not just asking me, but they are asking Isaac [Seumalo,] Dan [Moore,] like people who played a lot of football.”

Aside from teaching the younger guys his tips and tricks, Daniels has been asking questions of his own and is still trying to improve his own game. Daniels credited OTAs and minicamp for allowing him to have the time to ask those questions.

“We do a lot of individual work and the biggest thing personally for me is being around other people,” Daniels said about the offseason programs. “When Zach [Frazier] has a question or when I want to ask Isaac a question, I can ask him there on the field… Being a resource to a younger player or asking Isaac a question, you can’t get that at home.”

With just the lone season left on his deal, and the Steelers likely already having drafted his replacement, this may Daniels last season in the black-and-gold. Already playing with an $11 million cap hit and only being 26-years-old, depending on his play this season, Daniels may price himself out of the Steelers market.

If that is the case, the team drafted Mason McCormick in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft and may end up being Daniels replacement in 2025. Regardless, Daniels still has at least one more season as a Steeler and will be the team’s starting right guard in 2024.

78 • James Daniels, Guard, Iowa
6-foot-4, 327 pounds, 26 years old, 7th Season

Acquired: Back in 2022, the Steelers signed James Daniels to a three-year, $26.5 million contract after his rookie contract with the Chicago Bears expired.

Last YearAfter a strong first season with the Steelers, James Daniels played well in his second with the team. Starting 15 games at right guard for the Steelers in 2023, Daniels missed two games due to a groin injury. Daniels played in his fewest amount of offensive snaps since the 2020 season.

In his 15 starts, Daniels played 944 snaps, totaling just three penalties committed and one sack allowed.

Pittsburgh Steelers right guard James Daniels

Pittsburgh Steelers right guard James Daniels in a game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 15, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

CareerThe Bears drafted James Daniels with the 39th overall pick in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. As a rookie, Daniels split time at the left guard position but slowly gained the full-time starting role. He appeared in 16 games and started 10 in 2018. In his 10 starts, nine of them were at left guard and one at right guard.

Prior to his second season, Daniels moved to center and then started all 16 games for the Bears in 2019. Midway through the season, Daniels moved back to left guard due to an injury along the offensive line. In 1,069 offensive snaps, Daniels did not allow a single sack and only committed three penalties.

In 2020, Daniels started the first five games of the season at left guard before he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury.

Daniels bounced back in 2021 as he started all 17 games of the season at right guard and played 1,121 offensive snaps. He allowed three sacks and committed nine penalties. Despite the spike in penalties, Daniels earned the highest Pro Football Focus rating of his NFL career as they gave him a 71.8 rating.

After the 2021 season, Daniels’ contract expired and he signed a three-year deal with the Steelers in free agency.

Steelers guard James Daniels

Pittsburgh Steelers right guard James Daniels blocks a defender in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 29, 2023 — Ed Thompson // Steelers Now

In his first season in Pittsburgh, Daniels started all 17 games at right guard. He played a career-high 1,160 offensive snaps as he helped block for a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett and a 1,000-yard rusher in Najee Harris.

In his 17 games, Daniels did not get credited for allowing a sack and only committed five penalties. For an offensive line that struggled at times, Daniels was one of the bright spots for the group in 2022.

Over the first six seasons of Daniels’ career, he has appeared in 86 games and recorded 80 starts. Of his 80 starts, 40 of them were at left guard, 32 at right guard, and eight at center.

Year Team GP GS Snaps Sacks Allowed Penalties PFF Rating
2018 CHI 16 10 762 0 1 65.8
2019 CHI 16 16 1,069 0 3 68.4
2020 CHI 5 5 305 1 4 69.9
2021 CHI 17 17 1,121 3 9 71.8
2022 PIT 17 17 1,160 0 5 66.9
2023 PIT 15 15 944 1 3 62.1

College: James Daniels decided to commit to the University of Iowa after mulling offers from other prestigious schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, and Auburn. Daniels played immediately for the Hawkeyes as he played in 14 games and notched two starts as a true freshman. In 236 offensive snaps, Daniels only allowed one sack and committed two penalties. While most of his playing time in 2015 came on special teams, he did appear in games at both tackle and guard.

In 2016, Daniels started all 11 games that he played at center. He played 629 offensive snaps and allowed three sacks while committing four penalties. Pro Football Focus gave Daniels an above-average grade of 85.9 for his level of play in 2016. In addition, Daniels was named All-Big Ten Third Team by the conference’s coaches and media.

As a junior, Daniels started all 12 games at center to close out his collegiate career. Daniels earned a career-high 89.4 rating from PFF after the 2017 season. In his career at Iowa, Daniels appeared in 37 games and recorded 25 starts.

Year GP GS Snaps Sacks Allowed Penalties PFF Rating
2015 14 2 236 1 2 74.6
2016 11 11 629 3 4 85.9
2017 12 12 730 3 4 89.4

Salary cap and future: James Daniels is entering the last year of his three-year contract and will cost $11.16 million against the Steelers’ 2024 cap space. Of his $11.16 million cap hit in 2024, $8.25 million is in base salary while $2.91 million is a guaranteed signing bonus. With no extension given by the Steelers, Daniels is expected to hit free agency following this upcoming season.

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