ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos placed right tackle Ja’Wuan James on the non-football injury list Friday, two days after he tore an Achilles tendon working out away from the team’s facilities, imperiling his paychecks for the upcoming season.
The move opens a spot on the Broncos’ 90-man roster, but doesn’t foretell whether the club will cover any of James’ $10.58 million salary or his medical costs.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, the Broncos aren’t contractually obligated to pay James’ salary in 2021 because his injury occurred off-site, a point the NFL’s management council reiterated in a memo this week to all team executives and head coaches.
With some players across the league boycotting voluntary offseason workouts this spring, the NFL used James’ injury to remind teams that players are protected against lost wages if they get hurt at the team’s facility. They don’t have the same protection if they’re injured working out anywhere else.
The NFL cited James’ injury in particular and said several teams had inquired about the Broncos’ obligations to pay him.
In the memo, the league encouraged teams to “remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train in non-NFL locations.”
The NFL Players Association responded with a memo to players, first obtained by NFL Network, that called the league “gutless to use a player’s serious injury as a scare tactic to get (players) to come running back to these workouts” at team headquarters.
The union called the NFL’s memo “yet another sign of what they think of you and also affirms that they simply want to control you year-round in any and every way they can.”
James, the players association memo added, had been “working out to stay in shape under a program recommended to him by his coach,” adding, “clubs who care about their players have often in the past honored (an injured) player’s contract for simply working out to stay in shape.”
The union also pointed out in its email Thursday that while the NFI designation has been part of the CBA for awhile, the league has “never, ever sent such a memo about voluntary workouts.”
In a radio interview, union president J.C. Tretter said the league’s memo could have a chilling effect on players’ off-site workouts between the end of mandatory minicamps in June and the start of training camps in late July.
He said players might be leery of working out to stay in shape for fear an injury would wipe out their salary for the upcoming season, something that would hurt teams expecting players to show up in tiptop shape.
James, who opted out in 2020 over coronavirus concerns, was due to make $10 million guaranteed this season plus another $580,000-plus for a 17th game check after the league added an extra game while reducing the preseason from four games to three.
The Broncos are no longer on the hook for James’ salary, but they could choose to pay a portion of it. On the other hand, they also could seek to recoup some $3 million of James’ signing bonus.
James, a 2014 first-round draft pick by Miami, has only played parts of three games since signing a four-year, $51 million free agent contract with the Broncos in 2019 that made him the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history at the time.
He sustained two knee injuries in 2019 and sat out last year.
James had been working out at team headquarters earlier this offseason before honoring the players’ union wishes to stay away during voluntary offseason workouts.
On-field work is set to begin May 17, but the only mandatary portion of the offseason program is a June 15-17 minicamp.
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