It’s Legal Tampering Day for the National Football League, referring to the opening of the three-day ‘legal tampering window’ (an unofficial term) that precedes the start of the new league year, during which time teams may contact pending free agents and negotiate, but not finalize, contracts, which can be made official upon the official start of the 2021 season.
With the arrival of the new league year work week will come a flurry of transactions from all corners of the NFL. Deals will be signed, for example, many of them on the cheap. The Pittsburgh Steelers got one out of the way last week when they brought back B.J. Finney to replenish the interior offensive line.
I would expect that another such signing is to follow, perhaps today, and it will be far from unpredictable. I’m referring of course to the potential return of former Steelers tight end Jesse James, who was with the team between the 2015 and 2018 seasons before signing with the Detroit Lions in free agency.
James spent the past two seasons year in a decreasing role, but under new leadership, they went in a different direction. They released him and signed another tight end free agent with whom new head coach Dan Campbell already has experience and who perhaps better fits what he wants to bring to the team.
Following the retirement of Vance McDonald, bringing James back on a minimum contract would be an ideal fit for where the Steelers are positioned right now—which is, essentially, in need of a very cheap veteran option to fill in the tight end depth chart and in whom they know they can depend.
While the Penn State alum would never fool anybody into thinking he’s a Pro Bowler, he is a more than capable contributor who would be able to add to both the blocking department and the passing game. He caught 30 passes for more than 400 yards while splitting time with McDonald during his final season with the team in 2018.
Assuming that it happens—and it seems to have a pretty high probability of happening—it won’t be the exciting signing, or one that attracts a lot of attention, but it could prove to be a pretty significant one. And these minor but important moves add up to the sorts of things that make or break a season.
You’re not going to have All-Pros at every position, but having Eric Ebron as your starting pass-catching tight end with James coming in as your utility tight end who can block and catch and work in conjunction with a tackle-eligible makes this a much more complete tight end room than they currently have, by a good margin, and does so on a budget.