Why a Steelers reunion with TE Jesse James still makes sense

Jesse James #83 of the Detroit Lions. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Jesse James #83 of the Detroit Lions. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

The Steelers drafted Pat Freiermuth in the second round this year, but here’s why it still makes sense to sign former TE Jesse James. 

The Steelers had plenty of issues on the offensive side of the ball in 2020. In addition to an ailing offensive line and a group of running backs that failed to get anything going on the ground, Pittsburgh received very subpar play out of their tight ends last year.

Many fans had high hope for Eric Ebron in his first year with the Steelers. The former 10th overall pick by the Detriot Lions had never quite lived up to lofty expectations, but he did have a promising season with an Andrew Luck-led Colts team in 2018. Since then, however, he has reverted back to his usual old self.

For the Steelers, Ebron was terrible as a run blocker and inconsistent as a receiver – recording 7 dropped passes, according to Pro Football Reference. Vance McDonald was even worse. The now-retired Steelers tight end has struggled as both a blocker and receiver over the past two seasons and has graded out as one of the worst tight ends in the league since 2019, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Steelers took a necessary step to help fix the position by selecting Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but they could still use more help. Fortunately for them, Jesse James is still ripe for the picking, and the Steelers should pounce.

How Jesse James could still help the Steelers

Jesse James is not a great player; nor has he ever been. But that doesn’t mean he’s not worth adding to Pittsburgh’s roster. One thing the Steelers know they must do in 2021 is to get better on the ground, and James can help in that department.

The 6’7”, 261-pound tight end is a willing and capable run blocker who can get some push on the ground. this is something the team has been lacking for a few years now. While Freiermuth can also help in this department, James could be used in “12” personnel packages, as he is a far superior blocker to Ebron, and still has some ability as a receiver.

Pittsburgh drafted Zach Gentry with their 5th-round pick back in 2019, but the comparably large tight end has been very disappointing in his first two seasons – so much so that he had difficulty earning a hat on game day. His competition hasn’t been any better. Kevin Rader and Dax Raymond have been serviceable camp bodies, but really nothing more.

Now entering his 7th NFL season, Jesse James has 150 starts under his belt and loads of experience as an in-line tight end. The Steelers likely already made a big upgrade to the position going from McDonald to Freiermuth, but adding James would be another bonus that could help this team in the run game.

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Obviously, the price would have to be right for the Steelers to execute this move, but because James was cut by the Lions and has been sitting in free agency so long, the price should be relatively cheap. James would give the team depth that it hasn’t had at the tight end position in years.