Detroit Lions: 5 potential salary cap casualties heading into 2021

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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Detroit Lions
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The Detroit Lions can save $2.1 million in salary cap space by releasing Jesse James.

I’m interested to see what the newly appointed Lions GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell decide to do with backup tight end Jesse James.

All signs point to a break-up between the Lions and James after back-to-back sub-par years after signing a massive four-year $22.6 million deal, including a fifth-year club option.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been as critical as anyone on Jesse James, and right from the get-go, but knowing where Campbell has come from, I can’t help but wonder if the Lions head coach sees a bit of himself in James.

James is known for his blocking but, in the past, had been a somewhat reliable red-zone threat during his time in Pittsburgh.  James stands a massive 6-foot-7 and really improved as a blocker in 2020 from his awful 2019 performance.

As previously mentioned, upon signing James, I expected to see a stellar blocker at the very least, along with some red-zone production when called upon.  Instead, it was Logan Thomas drawing more of the TE2 receiving targets in 2019, and James failed to make much of an impact in the blocking department.

In year one with Detroit, James earned a run-blocking grade of 54.6 and a pass-blocking mark of 48.3.  Yikes.  James did bounce back in the blocking department during the 2020 season, earning a very respectable pass-blocking grade of 70.5, the second-best mark of his career, along with an ok mark of 61.4 as a run blocker.

Those are indeed solid TE2 numbers.  James had been targeted 21 times, making 14 catches totaling 129 yards and two touchdowns.  There is room for improvement here, but let’s not forget with T.J. Hockenson quickly turning into a top-five player at his position, James’ opportunities in the passing game are and will be few and far between.

The Lions can get this production elsewhere, but I’m still interested to see how Campbell feels about James.  If he’s retained, it’s clear Campbell feels he can revive the large target.  We all know quarterback Jared Goff likes having multiple tight ends.  During his time with the Rams, he regularly found Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett in the passing game.

If the Detroit Lions chose to cut James now, the move will carry a $4.2 dead cap hit and save the club $2.1 million.  If Detroit waits until after June 1st, the team will save $5 million in 2021 and carry a dead cap number of $1.4 million in ’21 and $2.85 in ’22.