Ja’Wuan James Files Grievance Against Broncos

As expected for some time Ja’Waun James has filed a grievance against the NFL according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The grievance will seek $15 million in damages which is the amount of James’ 2021 and 2022 injury protection that was negotiated in his prior contract with the Broncos.

We have talked about this extensively on the OTC podcast and here on the site as well. My contention was that the Broncos used the post June 1 designation primarily because they were protecting themselves from the added cap charges that were to come from a grievance. Here is what I wrote about the contract just last week when the release became official on the NFL salary cap.

The divorce between tackle Ja’Wuan James and the Broncos was very public as James got caught in the crosshairs between the NFL and the NFLPA’s fight over workouts. The Broncos have about $20 million in cap room while carrying James’ $13 million cap charge and would have saved $4 million with a standard release. I believe the reason they used the June 1 in this case is because of the potential grievance liability that will come from his injury guarantees. James had $15 million in injury protection remaining in his contract and should file a grievance to try to recover it. Even if it is a longshot it will still count for $6 million in the short term which would have actually cut down on the Broncos cap room, so using the June 1 keeps their cap sky high in to keep open the possibility of a trade. James will now count for $3 million on the cap plus whatever grievance if filed, in 2021 with a $6 million charge in 2022.

So expect the Broncos to take a $6 million cap hit for the year while the grievance process is carried out. These usually take some time so the balance of the impact will likely come on the 2022 salary cap. If James is not successful in his claim the Broncos $6 million credit should come in 2022. If James is successful the Broncos will lose an additional $9 million in cap room in 2022. It should be noted that teams and players often settle these grievances and could come to an agreement on a figure in between the two numbers. That impact would come immediately once the settlement occurs.

In my opinion the settlement is not a likely outcome here only because the Broncos could have held James on his contract, paid him whatever they felt like, and ultimately worked out a deal with his agent for the contract. That would allow them to maintain the rights to the player and in essence settle the grievance once a deal was reached. Once they cut him it seemed as if that was off the table.

The closest point of reference I can recall to a situation like this would be the situation between Jason Peters and the Eagles in 2012. In that season Peters, who was working out away from the Eagles facility, re-ruptured an Achilles tendon due to a malfunction of a scooter that was to support the weight of the injured leg. The Eagles reduced Peters’ salary from $8 million to $4.25 million due to the injury and Peter’s camp agreed with the reduction. Peters’ later sued and won $2 million from the company that manufactured the scooter.

As for this claim itself Florio had details there.

[T]he intent and purpose behind the NFI designation — a highly controversial provision found in Article 20 of the CBA that was requested by the NFL in contested CBA negotiations — would not be served by designating the injury here as an NFI…The purported historical purpose of an NFI designation is for protection against reckless and improper off-field player conduct. The intent was and is not to retaliate against veteran players (or any player) like Claimant during a global pandemic who are injured in the course and scope of employment when training for their Club and/or with the guidance and/or knowledge from the Club. A disturbing and dangerous precedent would be set by embracing such an interpretation that completely disregards player safety and basic dignity.

The “highly controversial” language is just designed to elicit a response. The language as it pertains to NFI has been around forever (It was around since at least 2006 which is the last CBA I have a handy copy of) and has never been tweaked so it is not controversial in any way, shape or form. This use of it might be but the concept of NFI is not. In any event the argument here seems two fold- the team implied permission when they recommended a facility and that the pandemic made working out at the team facility dangerous.

From prior statements about his situation it would seem that the team did recommend a place to go but not in an official capacity. The pandemic reasoning will probably be more difficult since reportedly James had been at the facility prior to no longer attending. Given that there was also clear indication by the union that they wanted to not have OTAs this would seem to be more along of the lines of players being instructed not to attend.

Florio also contends that there could be a potential collusion claim being set in motion. This is a different aspect of this and would not really pertain to the grievance itself as the collusion claim should come against the NFL if that occurred. I think those dots are being connected because the representation for James is the same as the representation for Colin Kaepernick who filed such a claim against the NFL a few years ago.

I’m not sure if that holds water here or not. Per the CBA here is what is considered collusion (you can read the full version here):

Section 1. Prohibited Conduct:
(a) No Club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express
or implied, with the NFL or any other Club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit
individual Club decision-making as follows:
(i) whether to negotiate or not to negotiate with any player;
(ii) whether to submit or not to submit an Offer Sheet to any Restricted Free
Agent;
(iii) whether to offer or not to offer a Player Contract to any player;
(iv) whether to exercise or not to exercise a Right of First Refusal; or
(v) concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to any player
for inclusion, or included, in a Player Contract.
(b) Any approval or disapproval of a player’s contract by the Commissioner,
or any communication thereof, timely notice of which is provided to the NFLPA cannot
be the basis of any claim of collusion. The NFLPA or the affected Player shall have the
right to appeal the Commissioner’s disapproval of such player contract to the System Arbitrator, pursuant to Article 15 and Article 14.

None of these would seem to apply to termination from a contract. I believe that a player has 90 days to file a collusion claim. The collusion would be based, in theory, on a memo the NFL sent out which reminded teams that they could use NFI and not pay a player his guaranteed salary which was sent out in early May. That could also be used as a jumping point to see if there were other discussions made directly from the NFL offices to Denver to instruct them to release James but this all seems like a massive longshot that is not in the score of the CBA. Kaepernick’s situation was a clear violation of this Article since he was contending that the NFL, as a while, refused to offer him a contract. The most broad definition here I guess would be that the NFL told them to not negotiate a settlement with James on the conditions of NFI.

As mentioned above these usually dont resolve quickly so there will likely be some time between this filing and any settlement of this grievance.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC