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Detroit Lions free agent profile: Get to know new TE Jesse James

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We asked Behind The Steel Curtain to give us everything they know about the Lions’ new tight end.

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

How bad were the Lions’ tight ends last year? They were bad enough to not welcome any players at that position back. The only tight ends the Lions are bringing back are Michael Roberts and Jerome Cunningham, but they won’t be alone. The Lions went out and got, arguably, the best tight end free agency had to offer.

Jesse James, or as some Lions fans want to call him, Road Dogg, was a great pickup for a team that desperately needed a great pickup at this position. Jesse will help improve the team’s run blocking and pass blocking and can even do some things in the receiving realm as well.

But Lions fans should temper their expectations on James ability. He’s going to be a great tight end for the Lions, but if you’re expecting Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski, you should stop doing that. Because while James was the best tight end available, the Lions are likely not done with this position yet. They might even draft a tight end in the first round again.

But still, be happy with the signing. The Lions got a guy that’s good at what he does. Our pal Simon Chester over Behind The Steel Curtain took a break from writing about Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to talk to us about Jesse James. Here’s what he had to say:

POD: What are your thoughts on Jesse’s time in Pittsburgh?

BTSC: “Nice guy, never caused any issues in the Steelers locker room and generally kept himself to himself. Well-liked and drama free which is something of a rarity in Pittsburgh these days. For a fifth-round draft pick, he was probably more productive than expected but I’m not sure too many will be worried about his loss to the offense. Popular with fans in part because of his local connections, James will probably be more remembered by fans as the guy who had a touchdown overturned in game against the Patriots or the guy fans used to chant “Heaaaathhhh” for after every catch for the first few years of his career as they failed to notice Heath Miller had retired. When it finally sunk in, they kept on doing it anyway because it was funny. “

POD: What are his strengths?

BTSC: “Reliable, consistent, can’t remember an injury of any note. Doesn’t seem to make obvious mental mistakes. Doesn’t tweet. Doesn’t say stupid things to the media. Not bad at anything really but not great at anything either.”

POD: What are his weaknesses?

BTSC: “Average speed, not as athletic as you would like, blocking ok but not great. Hands solid but unspectacular. He is a rather average player whose stats got a boost by seeing more playing time that he should. Did not play much his rookie year behind Heath Miller in his final season. Started most of 2016 after Ladarius Green was injured, same again in 2017 when Vance McDonald was injured and split time with him again last year due to injury once again. If the starters had been healthy I’m not sure much would have been known of him. Steelers clearly were unconvinced enough by him to sign Green when Miller retired rather than turn the job over to him and when it was clear Green would not play in 2017, quickly made a trade as the season began for McDonald.”

POD: What kind of an impact should Lions fans expect Jesse to make in Detroit?

BTSC: “If fans expect him to be a dynamic starting TE, they are going to be disappointed. He would be a fantastic No.2 behind a pure pass-catching option, bring him in for running plays and have a viable receiving option in a two TE set. Fans should like his workmanlike attitude and pleasant demeanor. Can’t imagine it will take him too long to learn the offense, but I can’t see him ever putting up much more than 650 yards in a season or 5 or 6 TDs. Was never really a dominant redzone threat, even though he has the height to suggest it. To be fair the Steelers offense did not really try and feature him in that role too much either.

If the Lions have given him a huge contract, I think you will question where the money went. If it is low starter money/decent backup level, it is a fair deal. Steelers encouraged him to see if he could find a starting role in free agency, and I believe they made it clear they would like to have him stay, but as a backup and for backup money.”