DENVER -- Sixty-three snaps into his Broncos career, Ja'Wuan James' time in Denver is likely over.
The centerpiece of the team's 2019 free agent class, James ruptured his Achilles in an off-site workout, a source confirmed to Denver7, likely ending his season and star-crossed tenure with the Broncos. By following the NFLPA's wishes to not work out at the team facility -- the union has expressed concerns about COVID-19 protocols and the traditional schedule of the offseason -- James might have cost himself $20 million. His injury is not expected to be covered since it happened away from UCHealth Training Center.
It is an unfortunate break for James in a series of them since he joined Denver on a four-year, $51 million contract before the 2019 season. James logged 63 snaps in his first season in Denver, undermined by a left knee injury that resulted in coach Vic Fangio questioning his mental toughness before he returned weeks later, and opted out last season because of COVID-19.
His 2020 contract was rolled over into this season. As such, per ESPN, he could lose $20 million -- $10 million guaranteed for skill and injury in 2020 and $10 million this season since it could be declared a non-football injury that happened away from team headquarters.
Looking to revive his career after opting out for COVID-19 last summer, James impressed Broncos officials and teammates with his recent visits to the facility.
"He's ready to go. He's ready to get back out there," left guard Dalton Risner told Denver7 recently.
I asked general manager George Paton about James a few weeks ago, and he painted an optimistic picture. The Broncos were counting on him, evidenced by the fact that they did not select a tackle in the draft when Northwestern's Rashawn Slater was available at the ninth pick.
"He’s been here, and he’s been working out. He’s looks great and the expectation is he starts at right tackle and he plays well," said Paton of James, who has played parts of three games since signing.
Now, it will be a surprise if James plays another snap for the Broncos. If they cut him, it could become a union matter. However, the reality is that he is out of the mix because of the severity of the injury.
Where does this leave the Broncos? Calvin Anderson serves as the top backup. He started last season twice, once against the Raiders and again at Carolina, when his good friend Garett Bolles was ruled out with cold symptoms as he went through COVID protocols.
Anderson, a street free agent, lived with Bolles during the season and retreated to California with the All-Pro tackle to train this offseason. Bolles turned those workouts into a career-changing experience, as he went from a liability to the team's best offensive player and a leader going forward with a four-year, $68-million contract. Anderson was preparing to start for months even before James' awful injury news because of the reality that the Broncos had not seen James in pads for 16 months, creating uncertainty.
"First and foremost we are taught as offensive lineman to control what we can control. It’s like that when you play in the trenches. You can only control if you block well. In the offseason, I can control my ability to prepare mentally and physically," Anderson said. "What I want the Broncos to know is that any moment I can play right tackle or left tackle, and I am guy that can play those at a high level."
A source told Denver7 the Broncos will look to add a veteran to fortify the position with Anderson, Quinn Bailey and recently signed undrafted free agent Drew Himmelman on the depth chart. Veterans available include Charles Leno, cut by the Bears on Monday, Mitchell Schwartz, a standout tackle who dealt with injuries last season, Eric Fisher, who missed the Super Bowl with an injury, and, last year's reserve Demar Dotson and former Titans starter Dennis Kelly. Kelly, 31, is scheduled to visit with the Broncos along with veteran Bobby Massie. Both are longtime starters in the league.
I also would not be surprised if Schwartz, a former Chiefs standout, visits Denver. If healthy, considering Schwartz makes total sense.