Jesse James spent the 2021 season with the Chicago Bears as the team’s third tight end behind Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet.
Now, the NFL veteran will join the Cleveland Browns for Year No. 8, Cleveland announced on its official website on September 5. With top tight end David Njoku inked to a long-term deal and Miller Forristall behind him, James will add some solid depth to the Browns’ TEs room.
In 14 games and nine starts for the Bears last year, James was used sparingly on offense, finishing with seven catches on eight targets for 62 yards (8.9 yards per catch) and a touchdown.
He had good hands — Bears QBs 138.5 passer rating when targeting him, and he was a solid blocker — he had a higher pass-blocking grade from PFF than San Francisco 49ers All-Pro George Kittle — but former Bears head coach Matt Nagy didn’t incorporate him into the game plan much.
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Nagy Was Frequently Criticized for Inability to Utilize TEs Properly
Over his seven seasons in the NFL, James has hauled in 157 passes for 1,522 yards (9.7 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns. He has never been a top tight end in the league, but he has certainly proven himself a capable contributor when given the opportunity.
In his lone season with the Bears in 2021, James developed a solid rapport with then-rookie quarterback Justin Fields, but Nagy elected to keep him in a largely-reserve role.
Fields spoke about his on-field connection with James last season, and it’s clear the young QB enjoyed playing with the veteran TE.
“With the amount of reps we got in camp — right when (James) got here — he was pretty much running with my group every rep,” Fields said in November of 2021. “I think we got a connection built there, just that foundation.”
“By throwing so many routes to (him), I can kind of just tell where his body is gonna be,” Fields added. “He has a wide range where he’s long. He can go up and get it. Of course you guys saw Sunday he can go down low and catch the ball also. That connection was based in camp.”
One insider following the team, Adam Hoge, called on Nagy to give Graham’s reps to James, but that never happened. Now, James will begin his eighth year with the Browns.
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A Look at Bears’ Depth at TE Behind Kmet
Kmet is coming off a career year that saw him catch 60 passes for 612 yards. He was Fields’ second-most targeted weapon on offense, and that connection has continued into the preseason this year.
Behind Kmet on the depth chart, there’s vet Ryan Griffin, who will kick off his 10th season in the league this year. Griffin started 12 games for the New York Jets last year, finishing with 27 catches on 42 targets for 261 yards and two scores (stats via Pro Football Reference). He has 67 starts over his nine-year career, with his best season coming in 2016 with the Houston Texans, when he hauled in 50 passes for 442 yards and two TDs.
The Bears just added their third and final TE on the roster, four-year vet Trevon Wesco, after the Jets released him during final cuts. While Wesco has played in 40 games over his three years in the league (12 starts), he has just six receptions for 87 yards (14.5 yards per catch) and has been primarily used as a blocking TE so far.
We’ll see if either Griffin or Wesco can step up and become a solid role player on offense for Fields.