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Steelers GM suggests TE Jesse James will be allowed to test free agency

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Fans might have seen the last of James in the Black and Gold after Kevin Colbert appeared to suggest he would be allowed to test the open market this offseason.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If the Pittsburgh Steelers are to retain Jesse James during free agency this offseason, it appears it might be more about a lack of interest from other teams than the Steelers own burning desire to keep him.

When speaking to reporters during his annual press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, Kevin Colbert’s answer to a question about the tight end’s future indicated that James would be allowed to test the open market in 2019. Encouraging him to see if there was a starting opportunity available out there before returning to the Steelers to discuss any offer they might make, Colbert’s response suggested that Pittsburgh will not attempt to re-sign him before the start of the new league year.

“Jesse’s been a nice complementary tight end to us. Any of our players that have an opportunity maybe to look elsewhere where they might have a better chance to be a starter, again, we encourage them. Go, look, found out, keep us in the loop. If there’s a way we can work it out that more beneficial to you to come back, great. As I said, if a player has the opportunity to go out and see what’s out there, he’s usually more satisfied if he decides to come back.”

Referring to James as a “nice complementary tight end” is not normally the expression used to describe a priority impending free agent, but there is no guarantee he will be available to re-sign later in free agency given the quality of the other options expected to be on the open market. James may not be considered a starter in Pittsburgh, but there are likely to be a number of teams interested in providing him that opportunity around the NFL.

While not expected to command top money for his position compared to many of his more illustrious peers, James should have no trouble finding someone willing to offer him more than the Steelers can afford to give him as a backup.