In early April, the Kansas City Chiefs finally addressed the receiver position, agreeing to bring former New York Giants wideout Richie James in on a one-year contract.
The 27-year-old former seventh-round pick (2018) broke out for 500-plus yards in 2022, including 378 yards from Weeks 11 to 17, which was good for 54 yards per game. James also served the Giants as a punt returner.
In late April, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach spoke to the local media about James’ upside.
“Always liked [James]. I think he’s a versatile guy,” Veach admitted, adding he expects the 5-foot-9 speedster to contribute as a punt returner. “A few years ago, there was a trading deadline period when he was at the [San Francisco 49ers]… I think we actually tried to trade for him. One of those, you know, waiver-wire cut deals.”
While James did not wind up in Kansas City then, he’s here now. So let’s get to know him a bit better. To do that, we sent some questions to Ed Valentine of our sister SBNation site Big Blue View.
1 - How would you recap James’ year with the Giants?
VALENTINE: James took full advantage of an opportunity that was presented to him. It was obvious from OTAs, when James was getting a ton of reps while Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard and Kenny Golladay weren’t practicing, that there was a chance he could be a factor. If you look at his 2022 production, he started strong, sort of faded into the background in the middle of the year and then re-emerged as a key contributor down the stretch. He made some big plays for the Giants toward the end of the year. Daniel Jones trusted him to be where he was supposed to be.
Except for one game where he fumbled two punts, he did an OK job returning punts, as well. Not dynamic, but adequate.
In all, 2022 was a far better year for James than the Giants could have expected.
2 - How do Giants fans feel about the team not retaining him?
VALENTINE: I think opinions are probably split. There is an understanding that the Giants have Wan’Dale Robinson returning and are giving Sterling Shepard another opportunity. Also that the draft is filled with small-fish slot receiver types, which is what James is. Still, he was productive and you hate to see productive players walk out the door. He took a lot of the snaps and caught a lot of the balls Giants fans figured would go to Toney and Robinson last year. My educated guess here is that 2022 might end up being the ceiling for James’ production.
3 - What are his strengths?
VALENTINE: He is pretty quarterback-friendly. He doesn’t drop many passes. He is where he is supposed to be. He’s reliable on a day-to-day basis — something Toney never was in New York. He’s a great addition if you aren’t expecting him to be a primary guy.
4 - What are his weaknesses?
VALENTINE: The biggest thing I was surprised by last year is that I didn’t see dynamic play-making ability. His yards after catch were a career low. Of course, maybe that is because of how the Giants used him. He was really only adequate returning punts, as well.
5 - Anything to know about him off the field?
VALENTINE: Nothing special, other than the fact that he has cool hair. He seems like a pretty quiet guy.
Pete’s take: James’ one-year deal with Kansas City is of the “veteran salary benefit” variety, which means $1.1 million if he makes the club and $552,000 in dead money if he does not. This puts him in a slightly favorable position to make the team.
That said, the Chiefs aren’t committing so much to James where undeniable talent couldn’t push him out. Kansas City’s top four receivers — Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore and rookie Rashee Rice — can already be penciled into the final 53. Considering his 2023 dead money would be $1.4 million if he’s released, Justin Watson is a very good bet to make the roster — and he has the trust of the quarterback.
For the supporters of John or Justyn Ross, Jerrion Ealy or Ihmir Smith-Marsette — to name a few — their spot would have to come at the $500,000 expense of James or a preseason injury. Here (in May), I tend to think a team that has continued big plans for Toney will like James’ upside as a punt returner and his late-season production as a depth receiver over any of the popular lottery tickets.