The Broncos privately were pleased that tackle Ja'Wuan James opted out in 2020, because it meant that they avoided his $9.85 million guaranteed salary. Although no team is pleased when a player is injured, the Broncos privately are pleased that James’ season-ending injury happened away from the team facility, because it allows them to again avoid the $9.85 million in guaranteed pay that tolled from 2020 to 2021.
That’s what most likely will happen. The labor deal gives teams the ability to not pay players who suffer injuries away from the facility. Given the lingering consternation between the league and the union over voluntary offseason workouts, teams will be more inclined than ever to not volunteer to pay a player who chooses not to volunteer to work out at team headquarters and then suffers an injury.
A separate problem for James flows from the very real possibility that the injury away from the facility voids the guarantee for good, allowing the Broncos to eventually cut James and to avoid forever the $9.85 million guaranteed salary.
Under the contract he signed in 2019, James also has $5 million in future salary guaranteed for injury only. That guarantee also potentially will void, due to the off-site injury.
Then comes the kicker, if the Broncos really want to play hardball with James. Given the language of the CBA and the standard player contract, they can recover the portion of his signing bonus applicable to the 2021 season. That’s $3 million that the Broncos could ask James to repay, based on a $12 million signing bonus spread over four total years.
The question of whether a player will work out on his own or at the team facility should be resolved on a case-by-case basis. The reality is that, when it comes to the dramatic financial differences between getting injured at work and getting injured away from work, most players would best be protected by always working out at the team facility.