In what will probably go down as one of the worst free agent signings of all time, Broncos right tackle Ja’Wuan James tore his Achilles today while working out away from the Broncos facility.
Broncos’ OT Ja’Wuan James suffered a season-ending torn Achilles working out today away from the team facility, per sources. James’ $10 million salary for the upcoming season now is in jeopardy being that Denver no longer is obligated to pay him with him working out off site.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 4, 2021
James had a fully guaranteed $10 million salary from the Broncos this season and $5 million in injury protection in 2022 but salary in the NFL is only protected for football related injuries. A workout at the Broncos facility or under Broncos supervision would have maintained the protection for James for the season. His injury guarantee will not cover injuries that are sustained doing other activities. The Broncos were one of the first of the high profile “opt outs” from the team offseason programs as advised by the NFLPA.
James signed a pretty stunning four year, $51 million contract with the Broncos in free agency in 2019. James received $27 million guaranteed at signing with another $5 million in vesting injury protection. James played in a total of 63 snaps in 2019 due to a number of somewhat mysterious injuries. James opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid and now will miss the 2021 season. Assuming they release him the Broncos will have paid $17 million for 3 games and 63 snaps.
Even if the Broncos release James they will still carry a salary cap charge of $9 million due to his $12 million signing bonus paid in 2019. The Broncos could instead place James on the NFI list and not pay him for the season. If they did that they would likely maintain their right to try to recover $3 million of his signing bonus through violation of his player contract by engaging in an activity that caused him to tear his Achilles. I think this would be highly unlikely, given that his injury appears to at least be workout related, but just wanted to point out that it is the team’s right to attempt to go down that path if they wanted to. If anything Denver will probably look at this as a get of jail free card since they will avoid paying $10 million in salary on the year.
Denver could also opt to keep him for the year and pay him a salary. It does not have to be the full $10 million but can be any number they agree to. Years ago the Eagles paid left tackle Jason Peters about half his salary when he suffered an Achilles injury away from the team.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.