DENVER -- Two years ago, when the Broncos aimed to solidify their offensive line, they targeted Ja'Wuan James as their top priority. They landed him with a four-year, $51 million contract, making him one of the highest paid lineman in league history.
Concern in training camp with nagging injuries morphed into a total lost season as James became a ghost in uniform.
Instead of anchoring the position, James contributed to the carousel as 17 players have started at right tackle since 2014. James will no longer occupy that status. His attempted rebound was halted Friday after he logged 63 snaps in 2019 because of separate left knee injuries and opted out for COVID-19 last season.
The Broncos placed the veteran on the reserve/non-football injury list, ending his career in Denver.
James no longer counts against the 90-man roster limit. Left undetermined is whether the Broncos will pay his $10 million salary this season and attempt to claw back $3 million of his $12 million signing bonus.
James has become a tennis ball in the labor rift volleys between the NFLPA and the league. Last month, the union advised players to not attend voluntary workouts, citing COVID-19 concerns and the length of the offseason, believing virtual meetings can suffice again for large chunks before training camp.
James became entangled after he ruptured his Achilles this week working out away from the team facility.
The NFL issued a memo when several teams decided to boycott voluntary workouts, explaining that contracts are not covered if a player is hurt off site. In the wake of James' injury, the NFL sent a memo to all teams this week stating that they are not required to pay players hurt while while working out away from the team facility, even while doing football training.
The NFLPA responded in an email to its players, calling the NFL "gutless," and arguing that the league was using James' injury as a "scare tactic to get you to come running back to these workouts.”
The union suggested that the Broncos' possible NFI designation of James was a threat. The Broncos followed through, placing him on the list. This could lead to James filing a grievance in attempt to retrieve money. The union said in its email that "Ja’Wuan was working out to stay in shape under a program recommended to him by his coach."
Broncos strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow provides players workouts, but they are not recommended or tracked, per a source. The line in the union email could be interpreted as a shot at Landow while the team remains undecided whether to pay James his salary or go after a quarter of his signing bonus.
Friday, a longtime agent told Denver7 the Broncos might be best served to leave the signing bonus alone because of how it could impact dealings with current and future players. The union stated in the aforementioned email that "Clubs who care about their players have often in the past honored a player's contract for simply working out to stay in shape."
According to NFL Network, seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady participated in an NFLPA call on Friday and stressed that the players should remain unified in creating change to the offseason schedule. Last month, the Broncos were the first team to publicly announce their decision to not participate in offseason workouts on April 13. Several teams followed suit. However, the Broncos still have players training at the facility, including those with bonuses connected to attendance like Von Miller, Dalton Risner, Graham Glasgow and Drew Lock, and rehabbing players.
James' case remains unresolved and will be watched closely. And it's fair to wonder if this labor strife will lead to a modification of the NFI provision.