Browns Bring in Former Rival Pass-Catcher for Workout

Jesse James

Getty Images Free agent TE Jesse James.

The Cleveland Browns brought in former Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-round pick Jesse James for a workout on Thursday as they look to beef up the tight end position.

James started 36 games for the Steelers from 2015-18, notching 120 catches for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns. After playing out his rookie deal, James went on to ink a healthy four-year, $22.6 million deal with the Lions in 2019 but was released after two uneventful seasons. He notched just 30 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns while in Detroit. He spent last season with the Bears, starting nine games but catching just seven balls.

The Browns currently have just two tight ends on their 53-man roster in David Njoku and Harrison Bryant. Cleveland parted ways with Austin Hooper in the offseason after inking him to a hefty free agent deal in 2020, opening the door for Njoku to take over the TE1 spot.

While Njoku and Bryant will have large parts to play, the Browns have a very tight-end-friendly system and could capitalize on a third tight end being on the 53-man roster. Head coach Kevin Stefanski — who is also the offensive play caller — used multiple tight ends 57 percent of the time, which was a league-high. That might change once Deshaun Watson returns to the lineup following his 11-game suspension, but the Browns will rely more on their ground and pound attach with Jacoby Brissett holding down the starting QB spot.

James is far from a pure blocking tight end but he has a big frame at 6-foot-7, 261 pounds and has been respectable at both run and pass blocking during his career, especially early on with the Steelers.

Browns Still Sorting Out Tight End Position

The Browns did sign a pair of tight ends to their practice squad in Miller Forristall and Zaire Mitchell-Paden. Both are far from proven products and will likely need time to develop before being contributors on game day.

However, considering how the Browns have utilized tight ends since Stefanski started calling plays in Cleveland, it seems a given that they’d carry three TEs on game day. That might not be the case.

“I would not assume anything. We will see,” Stefanski said when asked if it is safe to assume the team will elevate one to the active roster on gamedays.

The Browns also cut fullback Johnny Stanton, who spent the last two years in Cleveland.

“It does not mean I do not love those positions still. Again, it just goes back to that 53 is a puzzle, and you are trying to put it together and be smart about how you do it,” Stefanski said. “We will see how it shakes out.”

Wide Receiver Depth Still Question for Browns

The Browns have questions beyond the tight end position on offense, most notably at wide receiver. Amari Cooper will gobble up all the targets he can handle and the Browns are hoping Donovan Peoples-Jones, rookie David Bell and Anthony Schwartz can take on larger roles.

“Nobody on the team, even with me being the oldest guy in the room, is a finished product,” Cooper told reporters on August 31. “We are trying to get better every day. I am not even judging anybody in the room right now. I understand that we need to come out here and practice as hard as we can so that we can be ready for the games.”

Mike Harley Jr., Javon Wims, JaMarcus Bradley, Daylen Baldwin and Easop Winston were all let go as the Browns trimmed to the roster to 53. Harley and Baldwin were among the 12 players signed to the Browns’ practice squad.

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