Sports | May 5, 2021 12:01 pm

How Ja’Wuan James of the Denver Broncos Potentially Lost $10 Million in an Instant

The tackle suffered a potentially season-ending torn Achilles while working out

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James (70) lines up.
Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Denver offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James suffered a torn Achilles that could end his season while working out on Tuesday away from the Broncos’ team facility.

Per Schefter, James’s $9.85 million salary for the upcoming season is now in jeopardy because the Broncos are no longer is obligated to pay him; since his injury occurred when he was not at the team’s facility, it could be classified as a “non-football injury” (NFI).

It is a horrible situation for James, who reportedly had been working out at the team facility and left at the recommendation of the NFL Players Association (which has tried to get players to boycott voluntary offseason workouts this year), but that’s the reality of the NFL.

Thanks to the way NFL contracts work, players risk their salaries and signing bonuses — even if they’ve already been paid — by working out away from the team facility. It doesn’t even have to involve a season-ending injury, as guarantees can be voided if a player misses even one mandatory practice due to an injury suffered at a non-team facility.

Players like Le’Veon Bell, Tyreke Hill and Patrick Mahomes expressed confusion with the situation, and rightfully so. That said, the union should be making sure it is clearly explaining to players what they are risking by skipping voluntary workouts in order to work out on their own. In James’s case, that risk was nearly $10 million.

James, who was set to make a base salary of $10 million in the 2020 season but opted out due to COVID-19 concerns and had his contract deferred to the 2021 season, was limited to appearing in just three games for the Broncos in 2019.

If James does actually miss 2021, that will mean he has only suited up for three games in three seasons for Denver. However, there is some optimism the soon-to-be-29-year-old will be able to return for at least part of the ’21 campaign.

Taken with the No. 19 overall pick by the Dolphins back in 2014, James played out his full five-year rookie contract in Miami but departed for a four-year, $52 million contract that included $32 million guaranteed with the Broncos in 2019.