He may not be a household name, but Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James has become a relatively important part of the team’s offense. While he is not replaceable, he has proven himself to be a good number two tight end and is coming off of his most consistent season in spite of the fact that his playing time actually decreased.
But after four seasons, the Penn State alum is slated to hit the open market, and though he grew up a diehard Steelers fan, that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be open to the possibilities that will be available to him. After all, he has only made a couple million in his career.
Still, even while venting some frustration over the drama in the team’s locker room lately, he continued to express his love for the team. And he even acknowledged that that will inevitably play a role in his decision about where to play in 2019 and beyond, whether he wants it to or not.
“Obviously you can try to remove it, but that’s gonna weigh in in some way, being from here, playing here for four years”, he told Jacob Klinger. “I put a lot into this place, so definitely holds a special spot and something I’ll always be considerate of”.
James was a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft as an underclassman. He played sparsely as a rookie behind the likes of Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth that season, but after both of them retired a year later, he was thrust into a starting role when the tight end they signed in free agency, Ladarius Green, was shelved for most of the year.
The Steelers tried to ride into the 2017 season with what they had at the position, namely James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson, but by the time the preseason was winding down, they were unsatisfied with the results they were getting.
That prompted them to make a trade for Vance McDonald, who in his second season with the Steelers has become their number one tight end—though the workload is much more evenly split than you might think.
Discounting Grimble’s six receptions, James actually led the team this year in yards per catch, with something like half a dozen explosive plays to his name. Those plays were frequently more a product of his chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger on broken plays than by design, but that in itself is a good thing.
While McDonald is under contract, Grimble will be a restricted free agent. The Steelers re-signed practice squader Bucky Hodges to a Reserve/Future contract, while Jake McGee, who spent the entire season on the Reserve/Injured List, should also return.
The Steelers have spent time in recent years exploring the position in the draft without biting. Even if they do this year, however, that would not preclude them from bringing back James, especially if he chooses to take a team-friendly deal.