According to a Thursday night report from Adam Schefter, senior NFL insider for ESPN, the Detroit Lions are releasing former Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James. The move is hardly a surprise, as James never quite fit with the Lions.
Never mind the fact that Detroit dramatically overpaid for James when it signed him to a four-year, $22.6 million contract in March 2019. That was clear at the time he agreed to terms, and the move has since come to be regarded as the worst free agent signing by former Lions GM Bob Quinn.
Making the signing especially odd is the fact that the Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round (No. 8 overall) less than two months after James came on board. Perhaps predictably, Hockenson quickly developed into a Pro Bowler, catching 67 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns in 2020.
Jesse James Replaced Eric Ebron in Detroit
Meanwhile, in 32 games with the Lions over the past two seasons, James made 18 starts but hauled in a mere 30 receptions for 271 yards and two touchdowns, despite playing upward of a thousand offensive snaps during that time period.
Those two-year totals don’t match any of his three best seasons in Pittsburgh, where the former fifth-round pick (Penn State) amassed a total of 120 catches for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns.
It’s also notable that James was signed by the Lions in part to fill the void left by Eric Ebron, who left the Lions for Indianapolis (where he made the Pro Bowl in 2018) before he was inked by the Steelers in free agency in 2020.
Will the Steelers Move to Re-Sign James?
It should be interesting to see if the Steelers place a call to James’ agent, as the Steelers could use an inexpensive backup at the tight end position, and James would no doubt come cheap after washing out in Detroit. No doubt the Steelers would prefer not to use a 2021 draft pick on a tight end, as it’s not a particularly deep class of tight ends and the Steelers have many other more pressing needs.
Of course, if James doesn’t return he will always be best-remembered in Pittsburgh for what is arguably the most famous (non) catch in Steelers history.
During the final minute of the fourth quarter of a December 2017 regular season game against the New England Patriots at Heinz Field, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw what appeared to be a 10-yard touchdown pass to James, this in the wake of a 69-yard catch-and-run by rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The touchdown would have allowed the Steelers to overcome a fourth-quarter comeback by Tom Brady and the Patriots, but the catch did not stand up to scrutiny by replay officials.
More specifically, under replay review the touchdown was overturned because “the receiver in the end zone did not survive the ground.”
The Patriots went on to hold on for a 27-24 victory.
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