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Jesse James was one of the real winners of free agency

After signing a four-year deal with the Lions that could net him as much as $25 million (and guarantees him $11 million), there’s no question former Steelers’ tight end Jesse James was one of the real winners of NFL free agency.

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

There’s been a lot of talk of “winners” and “losers” with recent transactions involving the Steelers and/or their former players.

Did former Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell “win” or “lose” by agreeing to a four-year deal with the Jets, a contract that could ultimately pay him less than what Pittsburgh was offering a year ago? Did the Steelers “lose” really, really big when they were pretty much forced to trade receiver Antonio Brown to the Raiders for a third-round pick, a fifth-round pick and a boatload of dead cap money? Did Brown really “win” in this ordeal, or will Oakland, the team that went out and signed Vontaze Burfict just days after he was released by the Bengals, be the real “loser” when Burfict continues to be Burfict and AB continues his metamorphosis into the next TO?

That all remains to be seen, of course, but what I do know is that Jesse James, the veteran tight end with 120 career receptions for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns, is up in the Motor City singin’:

“Yo, I’m the Outlaw, Jesse James.

I make it rain!

They said it wasn’t a catch.

Look at all this money I just fetched!”

That’s right, as my rapping alter-ego just alluded to, James is heading to Detroit after agreeing to a four-year contract with the Lions last week, a deal that could be worth as much as $25 million with $11 million fully-guaranteed.

That’s a lot of money for 24 catches—or what James has averaged per season since his rookie year in 2015. That’s a lot of money for 237.8 receiving yards—or what James has averaged per season since turning pro.

Just how good is James’ new deal? So good, in-fact, writer Gregg Rosenthal of is calling it one of the worst (meaning, least team-friendly) of the free agency period.

In fairness to the Lions, the reason they signed James to such a lucrative deal is because they feel he can have an expanded role in their system. Can he? Will James be more productive? I guess we’ll have to find out. Unlike Ladarius Green, whose chronic concussion problems short-circuited his chance to show he was ready to come out from under Antonio Gates’ shadow when he signed with Pittsburgh three years ago, James should have a real shot to prove he has what it takes to be a productive starting tight end in the NFL.

When you really examine NFL free agency, it seems to reward potential more than it does past production. James is a bit of an unknown because he was never the top dog at his position with the Steelers. Therefore, Detroit may be more willing to take a chance on him at the age of 24. As for a running back like Bell, 27, have his wheels already started to fall off?

In the end, Bell will undoubtedly bank more bucks than James. However, if I were a betting man, I’d wager that the Outlaw has already gotten more out of his abilities than the Juice ever will. It’s not because of commitment, work ethic or discipline. It’s because James was in the right place at the right time. And like any great outlaw, he knew a great bank heist when he saw one.

As for fan scrutiny and scorn, unlike Bell, who signed a deal with a team that hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1968, nobody is even giving James grief for joining a franchise that hasn’t won an NFL title since a decade before the name “Super Bowl” was even thought of.

People don’t even seem to be bothered by James’ referencing the Steelers locker room drama, a la Bell and Brown in recent interviews, in his introductory press conference as a member of the Lions.

In the end, maybe it just comes down to good karma finding good people. By all accounts, James appears to be a good person, a person who was on the wrong end of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in recent Steelers history.

That was a catch, Jesse. Now go catch all the passes you can as a member of the Detroit Lions.

There’s no question Jesse James was one of the real winners of the 2019 NFL free agency period.