TE Jesse James reportedly leaving Steelers for Detroit Lions
It looks like the outlaw will be catching passes from a new gunslinger in 2019.
Tight end Jesse James is leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers after four seasons and will sign a contract with the Detroit Lions, NFL Network reported Monday afternoon.
When the free-agent signing becomes official at 4 p.m. Wednesday, James will be leaving behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for another veteran passer in Matthew Stafford.
James, 24, told the Tribune-Review the day after the season ended that he wanted to return to the Steelers but only after testing free agency to see if he could play for a team that promised more playing time. With the Steelers, James shared snaps with Vance McDonald, and management never viewed him as the team’s top tight end.
While McDonald was targeted 72 times in 2018, James had just 39 passes thrown to him. He had 63 and 60 targets the previous two seasons.
“I love playing as much as possible,” James said on Dec. 31. “I thought I had a good year, made the most of my opportunities. That’s all you can do.”
The Glassport and Penn State product finished the 2018 season with 30 catches, his lowest total in three seasons, but he had a career-high 423 yards and an average of 14.1 yards per catch. He started 36 of 56 career games and totaled 120 catches for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns.
He is best remembered for a catch that wasn’t ruled legal, the controversial overruled touchdown against the New England Patriots late in the 2017 season.
James earned $1.907 million in base salary in 2018, the final year of his rookie contract.
Detroit entered free agency with a glaring need at the position. Lions tight ends combined for 45 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns last season, and Luke Willson and Levin Toilolo became free agents.
“Being young, I have a lot of football left to play,” James said. “I know if I could come back here, that would be optimal to me. I’m looking for the best situation.”
With James gone, restricted free agent Xavier Grimble is the only tight end behind McDonald on the Steelers roster with NFL experience.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .