Why Did the Bears Let James Daniels and Bilal Nichols Enter Free Agency?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.

“While going through another rebuild is very disappointing, I appreciate your insight into the process. One thing I can’t understand is Ryan Poles not re-signing more of the team’s own free agents, several of whom the rest of the league appears to be really excited about. I get that it is a two-way street and that a player such as Allen Robinson probably wanted a new start elsewhere. What I don’t understand is James Daniels and Bilal Nichols who seemed to meet the criteria for the future being young, affordable and with upside. Is this a case of them also wanting a new start or a case of Poles just clearing out the old management’s players? — Scott S.”

“By my count, 18 players that finished last season with the Bears have signed elsewhere in free agency. They have re-signed two players that were unrestricted free agents (defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson and long snapper Patrick Scales) and also brought back three exclusive-rights free agents (tight end Jesper Horsted and offensive linemen Sam Mustipher and Lachavious Simmons).”

“I imagine you would probably feel a little differently about free agency had Poles signed a big name wide receiver or offensive lineman to mitigate the losses of Robinson (Los Angeles Rams) and Daniels (Pittsburgh Steelers) in free agency. It’s possible the team didn’t believe Nichols was an ideal fit for a 40 front. He headed to Las Vegas in free agency and the team has made some moves to shore up the front by signing Al-Quadin Muhammad and Justin Jones.

“What we are looking at is a large group of players signed to short-term contracts, many of them for only one season, and the hope is that a handful emerge as more than just bridge players and can be starters that the Bears can build around. Certainly it will not be the case for most of them, but between wide receiver Byron Pringle, linebacker Nicholas Morrow, offensive lineman Lucas Patrick as well as Muhammad and Jones, I would expect a couple to emerge as solid contributors.

“You’re going to see a lot of turnover next offseason with such a high number of players on one-year contracts. When the Bears kick off the 2023 season, the roster will look dramatically different than it did at the end of 2021. That is the goal and how the young players improve between now and then will go a long way toward determining how good the team is at that point.”

I identify with the questioner‘s feelings on this issue. I have an online friend how is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan who, after they signed Daniels, asked me “what the Bears have against resigning 24-year-old promising offensive lineman“.

There are a couple of reasons that I think may have led the Bears to let Daniels and Nichols leave as free agents. The first is a question of scheme. The Bears are changing the defense of scheme to a four-man front and, as Biggs points out, it could be that the Bears didn’t think that Nichols would fit that sort of a defensive front. Personally, I think he probably would’ve made a reasonably good nose guard in a four-man front but I’m not as qualified to make that judgment as the Bears coaches.

Similarly, it has been well publicized that the Bears are changing to an outside zone scheme. They have expressed a desire to acquire more mobile and athletic office of lineman. Again, I would’ve thought Daniels might have fit that sort of a profile. But evidently the coaches do not agree.

The second reason why these players may not have been resigned is because of the cap space that they may have occupied. In particular, many general managers do not like the idea of sinking inordinate amounts of money into one particular position. They would rather spread the money out. Former general manager Jerry Angelo was a fan of this philosophy. It could well be that the Bears figured that they already had enough money spent on the interior of the offensive line because of Cody Whitehair‘s contract. The choice very well may have been between resigning Daniels or keeping Whitehair and the Bers made their choice. If that is the case, I’d say they made the right decision. Whitehair is is probably the better player.

In any case it will be interesting to see how these players work out with their new teams and whether the Bears may end up regretting letting a couple of young players get away.

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