While the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have any premium, top-100-type players slated to become unrestricted free agents this March other than running back Le’Veon Bell, who has already not been a part of the team for the past season, they do have several important names on their list that includes valuable contributors they would want to keep around.
Some of them might even be starters, such as Ramon Foster, who just turned 33 today. He has played some of the best football of his career over the past two seasons, in years nine and 10, but he has never cashed in despite signing two contracts in free agency—or on the eve of free agency, anyway.
He may not be a starter, but Jesse James finds himself in a situation similar to Foster’s. While he is not being phased out due to age—in fact he’s only 24—the fact of the matter is that both of them are players the team may well believe they can or already have replaced.
In James’ case, that move was already made two years ago when they made the trade for Vance McDonald. He lived up to his potential this season, catching 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns while continuing to provide quality blocking.
James’ role has continued to be reduced as a result, yet he found ways to contribute this year, making more of his opportunities as evidenced by his 14.1 yards per reception, courtesy of a series of explosive plays he had.
As he is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career, he has a lot of factors to weigh, including the fact that he enjoys the opportunity of playing for his hometown team. But he understands this is his career, and his passion.
“Obviously, I don’t know exactly what is going to happen” in free agency, he told Joe Rutter. “I have to see what is out there. I expect interest from other teams and for the Steelers to have some interest. We’ll see what happens”.
We’re still a long way off from free agency, but he likely will draw a market, even if not a huge one. His age and workload are plusses, as well as his durability. In four seasons, he has caught 120 passes for 1189 yards and nine touchdowns. He caught a career-high 77 percent of his targets in 2018.
He received way fewer targets this year as well, and that’s a problem. “I love playing as much as possible”, he said, as should any football player. “I thought I had a good year, made the most of my opportunities. That’s all you can do”.
He has made strides, and the Steelers can probably afford to keep him within a reasonable market, but they will probably be looking to feature McDonald even more in 2019. Can they give him the sort of playing time that would keep him content with his role on the team?