4 potential veteran cut candidates for the Lions this spring
Position: Tight End
2020 statistics: 16 games played, 14 receptions, 129 yards, 2 touchdowns
2021 base salary: $5.9 million
Signed through: 2022 (Team option for 2023)
James just completed his second straight disappointing season after coming to the Lions nearly two years ago. When he was signed in 2019, he was widely viewed as the best tight end available on the free-agent market. The Lions grabbed him hoping to take advantage of his 6-7 frame, especially in the red zone.
It hasn’t gone nearly as planned, and James has essentially been an expensive blocker over the past two seasons. He’s totaled just 30 catches, 271 yards, and two touchdowns over his two seasons in Detroit. Minimal production, despite having the 10th-highest base salary among tight ends in 2020.
The Lions are in good shape at the front of the tight end rotation with Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson emerging in his second season. It may not make sense to retain James at his price tag, but there are plusses and minuses to cutting him.
Should they decide to move on from James this spring, the Lions will save over $7.5 million. However, that would leave them with a depth issue behind Hockenson; the only other tight end currently on the roster with an NFL reception is Hunter Bryant – he had one catch as a rookie in 2020. They will need to search for Hockenson’s backup either in free agency or in the draft.
Also of note, in four seasons as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, new Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn never had more than one tight end catch 20 passes in a single season. Despite this, those Chargers squads ranked in the top-ten in total offensive yardage in three of those four seasons.
With this in mind and with the Lions’ wide receiver corps likely heading for a major overhaul, Hockenson should continue to move up the pecking order in the receiving game, lessening the need for a pricey back-up. They may be able to find a competent replacement for James at a fraction of the cost.