The Ja’Wuan James injury, while bad for him, could be good for NFL players generally.
Players seem to be realizing that there’s a very real difference between getting injured while working out at the team facility and getting injured while working out elsewhere.
The news that James, who has (or at least had) a $9.85 million fully-guaranteed salary for 2021, will most likely lose that money because he suffered a torn Achilles tendon while working out away from the team facility was met with confusion by players like Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“So they are going to take his contract for working out in the off-season???” Mahomes said on Twitter.
Yes, they will. They will because they can. They especially will because the NFL Players Association has tried to get players to boycott voluntary offseason workouts this year, prompting the league to directly remind teams (and to indirectly remind players) that any player who suffers a serious injury away from work risks losing his salary. In the case of Ja'Wuan James, the price could be even greater.
Mahomes isn’t alone in his misunderstanding of the rules. And, frankly, Mahomes would never have to worry about the Chiefs not paying his salary if he were to suffer an injury away from work.
Still, he should have at least an inkling that it could be an issue. Remember when a video surfaced of Mahomes playing basketball, and the Chiefs quickly slammed the door on that? Presumably, his agents would have (or at least should have) explained to him the consequences of suffering a “non-football injury” — which means any injury (football-related or otherwise) happening away from the team facility, a practice, or a game.
Every agent should be explaining to every player the risks or working out away from the facility. Salary can be lost, forever. Guarantees can be voided if the player misses even one mandatory practice due to the injury. Signing bonus money can be pursued and recovered.
The union should be explaining that as well. Instead, player leadership continues to advocate skipping voluntary workouts, ostensibly due to the pandemic but actually because: (1) veteran players prefer no voluntary workouts at all; and (2) some members of player leadership remain upset that a 17-game season was forced upon the NFLPA during the latest CBA — as if the NFL wouldn’t have gotten a 17-game season by letting the agreement expire, implementing a lockout, and waiting for the players to cave.
We always support the players. There is no game without the players, and fans far too often side with the owners in disputes between league and union. However, we can’t support the Players Association on this one, because it puts individual player salary and other financial factors at risk with no real benefit. The owners don’t care if the players skip offseason workouts; all this does is unnecessarily agitate the coaches.
Ja’Wuan James, who reportedly was working out at the team facility and left at the recommendation of the NFLPA, learned that lesson the hard way. Other players can now learn that lesson without losing millions of dollar.