It’s almost hard to believe that Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James is already heading into his fourth season since the team made him a fifth-round selection during the 2015 NFL Draft as an underclassman out of Penn State. He has assumed a bigger role than most anticipated since then, but his future still remains unclear.
As he heads into year four, ostensibly a contract year, he figures to play the number-two role to Vance McDonald. James told Chris Adamski that he doesn’t think there are any discussions occurring between his agent and the front office about a possible extension, but added, “I just let that stuff handle itself; I’m here to work, so whatever happens, happens”.
To date, the 24-year-old has 90 career receptions for 766 yards and seven touchdowns. He established or tied career-highs for a season in each mark last year with 43 receptions, 372 yards, and three touchdowns. He should have had a fourth touchdown against the New England Patriots, but…well, we know that story all too well.
“I am just worried about this season; it’s hard to look ahead when you are sitting in dorm rooms going through camp”, the tight end said. “It‘s my fourth year, so I know what to expect, but still, it’s always a struggle here, it’s always a grind in some way”.
Noting that every year is a bit different, James said that “it’s hard to even look at the season at this point” so early into training camp, let alone his future in 2019 and beyond. Whatever happens after this season, he doesn’t know. But for now, he says, “I’m rared up and ready to rock”.
James has played a more significant role than intended heading into the season in each of the past two years. The Steelers signed Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract in 2016 to replace the retiring Heath Miller, but he spent most of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List then suffered a concussion after six games that ended his tenure with the team.
Last year, the Steelers added McDonald very late in the process, just before the final preseason game. His unfamiliarity with the team coupled with his not infrequent injuries limited his ability to contribute until the end of the season, however, which left James with plenty of opportunities to make his contributions.
Because of Proven Performance Escalators, James will earn about $1.9 million this season rather than the approximately $700,000 that he would have otherwise. Players drafted after the second round who play at least 35 percent of their team’s snaps in their first three seasons, or in at least two of his first three seasons, qualify for the bump in pay to the aforementioned mark.
It’s possible that James is a candidate for an extension, but General Manager Kevin Colbert admitted that the team might be limited by what they can do because of salary cap limitations. They had hoped to sign Le’Veon Bell to a contract that would lower his 2018 cap hit.