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Steelers’ Jesse James focused on 2018 ‘contract year’ season, not his future beyond that

July 31, 2018

Steelers tight end Jesse James warms up during practice Thursday, July 27, 2018 at Saint Vincent College.

Among Steelers entering the final year of their contracts and eligible to sign an extension, only two have started more games for the team than Jesse James.

Still just 24 and drafted only 39 months ago, it’s hard to believe the tight end’s rookie contract is set to expire not long after the 2018 Steelers’ final game.

“Time flies,” James said from Saint Vincent this week.

James, who played at South Allegheny High School and Penn State, is easily the longest-tenured Steelers player in his position room.

“I have been here before; I know what I have to do,” said James, who has 29 career NFL starts including 27 the past two seasons. “I feel like I have been here for a while: four years. I feel good going in and I’m rared up and ready to rock.”

James in 2017 had career highs in catches (43), receiving yards (372) and percentage of Steelers’ offensive snaps played (81.9 percent). That latter figure was by far the most of any tight end of the roster, according to footballoutsiders.com; over the past two seasons, James has played almost as many snaps as all the other tight ends the Steelers have employed in that time combined.

James played more offensive snaps last season alone (907) than all the other tight ends currently on the roster have played for the Steelers combined.

As such, James is a man who typically would be rewarded with a contract extension by the Steelers before the final season of his contract begins. But James said he is not aware of any such discussions.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I just let that stuff handle itself; I’m here to work, so whatever happens, happens.

“I’m not really worried about anything other than this month here (at Saint Vincent) and then going into the season from there.”

Acquired near the end of last season’s preseason, Vance McDonald has been getting first-team reps through two practices in 2018 at Saint Vincent. Xavier Grimble also has had an increased role.

But James has been in this position before - he outlasted the likes of Heath Miller (retirement), Ladarius Green (release after injury) and David Johnson (cut) to be a starter the past two years. Whether he’s here in 2019 or not, there’s plenty of time for that to work itself out.

“I am just worried about this season; it’s hard to look ahead when you are sitting in dorm rooms going through camp,” James said. “It’s my fourth year, so I know what to expect, but still, it’s always a struggle here, it’s always a grind in some way. Every year is a little bit different, so I’m just worried about camp right now. It’s hard to even look at the season at this point; I’ve just got to take one day at a time and make the most of it.”

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