Jesse James has been the one steady presence at the tight end position for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past four seasons. Originally drafted in the fifth round in 2015 to learn behind Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, both of the elders statemen retired the following year, leaving him as the only carryover.
The Steelers brought in Ladarius Green to start, but his health limited him to just six games, leaving James to function as a full-time starter for most of the year, through much of it looking as though he were in over his head. Injuries to the next option, Vance McDonald the following year, saw him continue to function as the starter more often than not.
In spite of the fact that he took more of a back seat in 2018 with McDonald’s emergence, however, he put together his best and most complete season, and he was able to parlay that into a very nice contract for himself with the Detroit Lions.
Which leaves the Steelers with a hole to fill. While they already have their starter in McDonald, the only other options remaining on the roster are Xavier Grimble, whom the Steelers tendered as a restricted free agent, and Bucky Hodges, who was on the practice squad a year ago.
One name that could return later in the offseason is Jake McGee, who spent 2017 on the practice squad but suffered a season-ending injury in the spring of 2018 that resulting in him spending all of last season on injured reserve.
The Steelers did not offer to re-sign him as an exclusive rights free agent, but that should not be particularly shocking if he is not fully healthy. If that is actually the case, then he can be re-signed once his medicals are where the team is comfortable with.
All three of these players—Grimble, Hodges, and McGee—have shown a little something here and there, but it doesn’t exactly create the most inspiring depth chart. The latter two, for one thing, have never been on a 53-man roster before. Grimble has never served as more than a number three tight end, though he has been given niche packages and has served as the number two when others have been injured.
Can he be a full-time number two tight end, the player who would start if McDonald were injured? That’s a much different question. The Steelers do like him—there would have been no reason to tender him if not—and he can catch and block. He is well-liked and is a hard worker.
That won’t prevent them from drafting a tight end, however, something that they have been teasing to pull the trigger on for the past few draft classes already. Having lost their number two tight end, it’s more like than ever that this actually happens. But even if it does, Grimble still figures to fit into the picture. After all, he’s made it for this long.