Detroit Lions reportedly agree to terms with Steelers TE Jesse James

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press

They had the worst tight end situation in the NFL last season, so of course they went out and signed the best tight end on the market in free agency.

The Lions reached agreement with Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James on a contract at the open of the free-agent negotiating period Monday, according to NFL Network.

James is the fourth player to sign or agree to terms with the Lions this week, and fills what was unquestionably their biggest need on offense.

The Miami Dolphins were the only NFL team that had fewer receptions from its tight ends last year, and the Lions are set to let starting tight ends Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo go in free agency.

More:Here's what Lions TE Jesse James has in common with Megatron

James is coming off a modest season in which he had 30 catches for 423 yards and two touchdowns, but at 24 years old he’s still considered an ascending player who’s both a viable receiving threat and improved blocker.

The Lions have just two tight ends under contract for 2019, Michael Roberts and Jerome Cunningham, and those two combined for just nine catches and 100 yards last season.

James cannot officially sign his deal until 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Nov 8, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) celebrates after scoring a third quarter touchdown against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 52-21. Mandatory Credit: Phillip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions entered Monday with several glaring needs on both sides of the ball and filled their biggest holes by mid-afternoon.

They opened the morning by signing free-agent receiver Danny Amendola, who was cut last week by the Miami Dolphins, then agreed to terms on contracts with James, New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman.

Flowers was considered the best defensive end on a market that was thinned by the franchise tag, and James was considered the best of a weak crop of tight ends.

The Lions are not done in free agency or at the tight end position, though they could wait until the draft to address the latter. This is considered the deepest tight end draft in at least the last 10 years.

In free agency, the Lions have been connected with a handful of defensive backs, including Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Gilchrist. They also need a replacement for T.J. Lang at right guard, and perhaps another cornerback to pair with Darius Slay and Coleman.

James, a fifth-round pick by the Steelers out of Penn State in 2015, has 120 catches for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns in his four-year NFL career.

He was at the crux of a replay controversy back in 2017, when he appeared to make the game-winning touchdown catch against the Patriots in a late-season game. But according to the rules at the time, James didn't maintain possession of the ball after hitting the ground and the pass was ruled incomplete.

The NFL changed the rule on receptions the follow year.

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