Justin Rogers | The Detroit News
Cleaning up another remnant from the previous regime, the Detroit Lions are releasing tight end Jesse James, according to two sources familiar with the decision.
James will arguably go down as former general manager Bob Quinn’s worst free-agent signing. After a productive early-career stretch with the Pittsburgh Steelers, James was brought in to help revamp Detroit’s tight end room, which had struggled to produce a year after Quinn released former first-round pick Eric Ebron.
In his final three years with the Steelers, James averaged 37 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns. With the Lions, it appeared the 6-foot-7, 250-pounder would have an opportunity at an expanded role, indicative by the four-year, $22.6 million contract he signed with the franchise.
But less than two months later, that vision was derailed when the Lions selected Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the No. 8 pick in the draft.
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James’ first year in Detroit was a disaster. Despite appearing in all 16 games and playing nearly 500 offensive snaps, he was held to 16 catches and 142 yards. He was also kept out of the end zone for the first time in his career.
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Optimism was rekindled last offseason after former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell committed to get Detroit’s tight ends more involved in the offense, but Hockenson proved to be the lone beneficiary of that pledge.
Again appearing in all 16 games, and seeing a similar snap count, James’ production actually declined. He ended last season with 14 grabs, although he did score two touchdowns.
James had no guarantees remaining on his contract, but the Lions are still responsible for $4.3 million in dead cap space for the remaining prorated portion of his $7.1 million signing bonus. His release will save the Lions $2.1 million in cap space this season, while knocking $7.2 million off the books in 2022.