Ja'Wuan James

Broncos Place Ja’Wuan James On Reserve/NFI List

The Achilles’ tendon tear Ja’Wuan James suffered earlier this week has become a critical event in this NFL offseason, due to the veteran right tackle going down away from the Broncos’ facility.

Although there was some uncertainty regarding the veteran blocker’s availability in 2021, the Broncos placed James on the season-ending reserve/non-football injured list, Mike Klis of 9News reports. This opens up a roster spot but, more significantly, shields the Broncos from the obligation to pay James his $10MM base salary. It is not yet known, however, if the Broncos will withhold that salary.

The team could also go after $3MM of James’ $12MM signing bonus as well, but the former first-round pick’s Denver stay is likely over. It did not go well. Adrift at right tackle dating back to the Peyton Manning years, the Broncos attempted to solve this perennial issue by giving James a four-year, $51MM deal in 2019. However, knee trouble and a 2020 opt-out have limited James to 63 snaps as a Bronco.

Not paying James the $10MM would free up some cap space for the Broncos, who held the second-most room ($25MM-plus) before James went down. This would allow for funds to acquire a replacement; Bobby Massie and Dennis Kelly are set to meet with the team. The Broncos are not yet certain to release James, per Klis. Doing so would trigger a $9MM dead-money hit, if they do not go after part of his signing bonus.

In the wake of James’ injury, the NFL and NFLPA released statements regarding their most recent contentious issue. The union has called for a boycott of voluntary offseason workouts; the Broncos were the first team to indicate they would stand with the NFLPA’s proposed boycott. While some Broncos have reported to the facility, James was training away from Broncos headquarters because of the boycott. The league and union remain at odds on this matter.

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Broncos T Ja’Wuan James Tears Achilles

8:31pm: James might not miss the entire season, per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network (via Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk). Doctors have told James that they are hopeful he can return at some point this season, though doctors will have a better idea of his prognosis when he undergoes surgery later this week.

Mike Klis of 9News.com confirms that the Broncos are indeed actively making calls in search of a new RT as they await word on James (Twitter link).

4:13pm: The Broncos are set to go another season without their high-priced right tackle. Ja’Wuan James suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon Tuesday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

James was training away from the team’s facility, which will put his $10MM base salary in jeopardy. The veteran right tackle signed a big-ticket deal with the Broncos in 2019, but he missed almost all of that season and opted out in 2020. Now, it looks like the 29-year-old blocker will miss the entire 2021 season as well.

Denver has been unable to fill its right tackle post for the better part of a decade. Moving three-year right tackle starter Orlando Franklin to guard in 2014, the Broncos have used a different Week 1 right tackle in each of the past eight seasons. This instability led to the team giving James a four-year, $51MM contract two years ago. However, that streak will reach nine in 2021. Elijah Wilkinson, the Broncos’ primary right tackle of the past two years, signed with the Bears this offseason.

Knee injuries kept James off the field for all but 63 snaps in 2019. The former Dolphins first-rounder opened that season as the Broncos’ right tackle starter but went down in Week 1 and endured setbacks as he attempted to come back. While Wilkinson and Demar Dotson worked as James fill-ins last season, Calvin Anderson is set to play that role now. The Broncos tendered Anderson as an ERFA in March. A UDFA out of Texas, Anderson played in 16 games last season and started two of those.

This is a tough blow for both parties. The Broncos passed on Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater, despite rampant issues at right tackle, presumably in large part because of James’ impending return. James’ injury certainly provides a bad look for the NFLPA, which advised its workforce to boycott OTAs. James’ 2020 numbers tolled to 2021, because of his opt-out, but this development may well end his Broncos career at just 63 snaps.

The Broncos will look to the veteran market, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. They did so last year, signing Dotson. Several notable options remain available. Dotson joins former Chiefs All-Pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in free agency. The latter is coming off back surgery, however. Ex-Bears tackles Bobby Massie and now Charles Leno are free agents, with Chicago releasing both this offseason. Cameron Fleming, Dennis Kelly and Ricky Wagner are also unattached. All were right tackle starters in 2020. However, Wagner — a Packers cap casualty — is considering retirement. Jason Peters has played left tackle for most of his NFL life, but the perennial Pro Bowler agreed to play guard last offseason and hopes to play in 2021.

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Broncos RT Ja’Wuan James Opts Out

Broncos right tackle Ja’Wuan James announced that he will opt out of the 2020 season. In a message to his fans (Twitter link), James explained that he made the decision to protect the health of his wife and newborn son. 

James joined the Broncos on a four-year, $51MM deal last year and lost the bulk of the season to injury. Now, he’ll pass on the 2020 season and have his $10MM base salary toll into 2021.

Upwards of 40 players have opted out of the 2020 season, as shown in PFR’s tracker. As expected, a number of lineman who could be classified as higher-risk have made the decision to stay home. The deadline for opt out decisions still remains TBD – the NFL wants to schedule Wednesday as the cut-off date, but the window could remain open longer.

James’ last full season came in 2018, with the Dolphins. In that year, Pro Football Focus measured the former first-round pick as a top-35 tackle last season. He’s been a starter since entering the league, but injuries have kept him out of action for extended periods – James missed eight games in 2017 and nine in 2015.

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Tackle Notes: Saints, Bulaga, Bolles, Eagles

The Saints have encountered more offensive line injury trouble, and it comes at a bad time. Left tackle Terron Armstead is believed to have suffered a high ankle sprain, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The standout blocker will miss Thursday’s game against the Falcons, and while New Orleans’ subsequent mini-bye would give the seventh-year blocker a chance to return against the 49ers, these are usually multi-week injuries. With left guard Andrus Peat sidelined with a broken arm, the Saints may be missing the left side of their high-end offensive line when they face the 49ers’ dominant pass rush in Week 14. Journeyman Patrick Omameh, whom the Giants cut after his short run as one of their guard starters, replaced Armstead on Sunday.

A lot of news affecting tackles around the league has emerged. Here is the latest:

  • Bryan Bulaga‘s knee injury appears to be a minor issue. The Packers‘ longtime right tackle left Sunday night’s game in San Francisco, but Rapoport notes (via Twitter) he is believed to be battling an MCL sprain instead of ACL trouble. Bulaga will likely miss some time but looks to be able to return this season.
  • As an Eagles season with Super Bowl aspirations veers closer to one of the more disappointing campaigns in recent NFL history, Philadelphia at least will likely have its Pro Bowl right tackle back this week. Lane Johnson expects to be cleared from concussion protocol on Tuesday, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Johnson missed Sunday’s loss against the Seahawks.
  • Vic Fangio appears ready to either bench underwhelming left tackle Garett Bolles or minimize his playing time. The Broncos’ first-year coach said Monday he’s going to shake up left tackle, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. This will be contingent on right tackle Ja’Wuan James‘ availability. Fangio said the seldom-seen free agent signing has been cleared from his latest injury, but it doesn’t look like James is a lock to return to action. He would likely play right tackle, with current right tackle Elijah Wilkinson shifting to the left side. If James returns, Bolles may be set for the first benching of his three-year career. The former first-round pick has not come especially close to living up to expectations, and the Broncos are unlikely to pick up his fifth-year option.
  • The Bears will be without their right tackle for a bit. Bobby Massie suffered a high ankle sprain against the Giants and will miss a few weeks, Rapoport tweets. This is Massie’s fourth season as Chicago’s starting right tackle; he re-signed this offseason on a four-year extension. Massie has only missed two games in his Bears tenure.
  • After their third straight 34-point game, the Jets are likely to have to again reconfigure their offensive line. Rookie right tackle Chuma Edoga suffered an MCL sprain, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (on Twitter). Adam Gase confirmed the 2019 draftee is dealing with an MCL issue and is week-to-week. The Jets have made numerous changes on their offensive front this season. Benched right tackle Brandon Shell, who came in for Kelvin Beachum after he suffered an ankle malady Sunday, may be called upon to re-enter the lineup. Beachum suffered a sprained ankle but may not miss any time.

Contract Details: Smith, James, Wake

The latest details on deals from around the NFL:

Broncos To Add T Ja’Wuan James

After a quiet Monday afternoon, the Broncos are spending big as the night progresses. They have reached an agreement to bring in Ja’Wuan James, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

This will be a massive deal, with Schefter adding the five-year Dolphins blocker will become the NFL’s highest-paid right tackle. James will receive a four-year, $52MM deal, with $32MM of that being guaranteed. This comes barely an hour after the Broncos authorized a three-year, $33MM deal for Kareem Jackson.

Denver’s big move figures to stop its streak of one-and-done right tackle starters. Since Orlando Franklin was moved to guard before the 2014 season, the Broncos have used a different primary right tackle each year. This will mark the sixth straight season the Broncos will have a new Week 1 right tackle, but James has been a target for a while.

The Broncos had a trade in place to acquire James from the Dolphins, who would have gotten C.J. Anderson in the 2018 proposal, but Miami nixed the move and kept James as its right tackle starter. Although the Dolphins are taking a rebuilding approach this offseason, Chris Grier said at the Combine they wanted to retain James.

This represents a major markup at the right tackle position, with Lane Johnson previously being the only eight-figure-per-year player here. James’ $13MM-AAV deal will easily usurp the Eagles stalwart’s status ($11.25MM per year) at this spot.

Pro Football Focus has measured James, a 2014 first-round pick, as an above-average tackle. He graded as a top-35 tackle last season. The former Tennessee Volunteer, though, has encountered injury troubles. He missed eight games in 2017 and nine in 2015. Other than that, the 26-year-old blocker was Miami’s starter since Week 1 of his rookie year.

Denver pivoted from Franklin to Chris Clark to Ty Sambrailo to Michael Schofield to Donald Stephenson to Menelik Watson to Jared Veldheer. That succession will stop with James, with this contract tethering him to the Broncos for years.

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Broncos Rumors: Amos, Barrett, Paradis, James

Here’s the latest on the Broncos, with all links going to Troy Renck of Denver7’s Twitter:

Raiders Targeting Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James

The Raiders may have just traded away their best offensive lineman when they agreed to ship Kelechi Osemele to the Jets, but they still want to fortify the O-line in free agency. Per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link), offensive tackle Trent Brown is high atop Oakland’s wish list.

Brown had an excellent platform season in his first (and likely final) year with the Patriots in 2018, starting all 19 regular and postseason games for New England en route to a Super Bowl championship. Pro Football Focus was bullish on his performance, ranking him 32nd among 80 eligible linemen.

The Buccaneers just inked Donovan Smith to a three-year pact worth $41.25MM ($27MM guaranteed), and it would not be a surprise to see Brown top that figure in terms of years, AAV, and total guarantees. That is especially true given that he profiles as the best left tackle on the free agent market by a wide margin.

Rapoport confirms as much, tweeting that Brown could be among the highest-paid tackles in the league. He turns 26 next month and clearly has Pro Bowl upside. RapSheet also says Brown could make his decision early on in the tampering window, which opens in less than an hour. The Patriots declined to use the franchise tag on him but are still interested in re-signing him, and the Texans have some interest as well. Brown, though, may prefer a different destination, as Vic Tafur of The Athletic tweets that head coach Jon Gruden does not plan to move 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller from left tackle.

Per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oakland is also interested in Dolphins right tackle Ja’Wuan James (Twitter link). New GM Mike Mayock is prioritizing the offensive tackle position, per Gehlken, and while Miami would like to retain James, the rebuilding Fins may find it difficult to do so.

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Dolphins, Xavien Howard Discussing Deal

The Dolphins met with cornerback Xavien Howard to discuss a new long-term deal, according to ESPN.com’s Cameron Wolfe. Howard is set to enter the final year of his rookie deal this year, so a fresh contract could make sense for both sides.

Howard is expected to command at least $15MM annually on his next contract, but it’s unclear if Miami is willing to go that high. Some have speculated that Howard could be a trade candidate, but the Dolphins say he’s staying put.

Yes, I’m very confident that he’ll be there. Xavien has been in the building. He’s coming back, working out and getting in shape again after the Pro Bowl,” GM Chris Grier said. “He’s doing good. We’ve been hanging out around him. He wants to be a Miami Dolphin and we want him to be a Dolphin.”

If the Dolphins can’t hammer out a deal with Howard, they can wait until next year and potentially cuff him with the franchise tag. With club control beyond ’19, the Dolphins aren’t necessarily in any rush.

In a more pressing matter, the Dolphins want to hang on to right tackle Ja’Wuan James, an impending free agent. Unfortunately for Miami, things could get costly if he hits the open market.

Quality tackles are hard to come by, and Wolfe hears buzz at the combine that James could command upwards of $10MM/year. Two agents tell Wolfe that if they were representing James, they’d shoot to surpass the five-year, $47.5MM deal that Lions right tackle Rick Wagner signed two seasons ago. Beating that mark would make James the second-highest-paid right tackle in the NFL behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lane Johnson. The Dolphins should know more this week when they meet with James’ reps.

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Dolphins Want Ja’Wuan James Back

Set to become one of this year’s top free agents, Ja’Wuan James will have a familiar team pursuing him. The Dolphins are preparing a pitch to keep James, GM Chris Grier said (via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald).

However, Grier added that Miami’s new-look front office came to Indianapolis without having discussed terms with the right tackle. Grier plans to meet with James’ representation at the Combine.

James joins Donovan Smith and Daryl Williams as the top tackles on this year’s market, which is another thin contingent. With the Buccaneers ready to keep Smith via the franchise tag if they have to, the right tackles’ stock will rise. Williams is also coming off an injury-marred season, further elevating James’ earning potential. It would seemingly stand to take a lot for the Dolphins to keep their five-year right tackle off the market.

In advance of his age-27 season, James has also battled injuries — missing eight games in 2017 and nine in 2015 — but the former first-round pick suited up for 15 contests last season. He graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 34 overall tackle last season. Though James has not been a top-tier right tackle, he is a generally well-regarded option.

The Dolphins considered cutting James, prior to his fifth-year option vesting. They also discussed a deal to trade James to Denver for C.J. Anderson last year before nixing it. It appears Miami’s new regime will see what it will take to keep James in Miami.

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