Broncos avoid $15 million in guarantees to Ja’Wuan James, due to his off-site injury

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The broad discretion that teams possess when a player suffers a serious injury away from work typically will be exercised based on various factors. The more important the player, the more valuable he is to the ongoing effort to win games and pursue championships, the more likely he’ll get paid even if he technically has squandered his ability to do so. The less important the player, especially in light of what he has been and/or will be paid, the more likely he’ll get nothing.

For tackle Ja'Wuan James, the Broncos have opted to take the “you’ll get nothing” approach. They paid James $17 million in 2019, and he played in only three games. Then, he opted out last year, during the pandemic. (That shouldn’t count against him, in theory. But it’s impossible to expect to completely ignore this when assessing the aftermath of his off-site injury.)

So after a year out of football, James began working out at the team facility. Then he reportedly left at the recommendation of the NFL Players Association. Although the team gave him and others “voluntary options” for workout regimens away from the team, the communication from the team made it clear that the team isn’t responsible for injuries happening away from the facility.

And so James did indeed suffer an injury, a serious one. And the Broncos, all factors considered, decided not to carry James on the roster and pay his salary for 2021 but to sever ties with a player who, but for the off-site injury, would have made more than $10 million in 2021, with that money guaranteed for skill, injury, and cap.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Broncos did not move to void the remaining guarantees in his contract (the $10 million this year plus a $5 million injury guarantee for 2022). Instead, the Broncos relied on the simple notion (as the Ravens did last year with Earl Thomas) that the guarantee for skill, injury, and cap does not cover an injury away from work.

The next question becomes whether the Broncos will try to recover the $3 million signing bonus allocation that applies to the 2021 season. Based on the manner in which Article 4, Section 9 of the CBA is written, that will be hard for the Broncos to accomplish. To recover the full amount of signing bonus applicable to a given year, there first must be a “forfeitable breach,” along with a continuous violation through the end of a given season. By cutting James before a “forfeitable breach” causes James to miss at least six days of training camp, the right to recover any of the 2021 signing bonus allocation never vests.

The Broncos could argue that the nature of the injury (torn Achilles tendon) necessarily means that forfeitable breaches would have occurred, all the way through the end of the regular season. James would respond by saying that this doesn’t matter; the team cut him before his inability to practice resulted in James actually committing the kind of forfeitable breach that allows signing bonus to be recovered. Thus, the team can take none of it.

In other words, James arguably would be treated no differently than any other player who is cut with unearned signing bonus payments remaining on his deal. The player keeps that money.

The Broncos easily could have kept James on the non-football injury list for all of 2021, allowing the “forfeitable breaches” to run and then seeking the $3 million. It’s unclear why they opted to cut him now. Maybe they simply didn’t want to deal with any potential P.R. pushback for refusing to pay James his weekly paycheck once the regular season began. Maybe they don’t want him in the facility as he rehabs the injury, serving as a constant reminder to the rest of the roster that the Broncos chose to stick it to James. Maybe they simply want to stick it to the union by forcing James to pay for his own rehab.

Regardless, while James arguably keeps the full amount of the signing bonus paid in 2019, he gets nothing more. That should serve as another reminder to all players that “fully guaranteed” money isn’t. It’s guaranteed only for skill, salary cap, and injuries suffered while in the building or on the field.

The Broncos didn’t release James for skill, for salary cap, or for an injury suffered at work. The $10 million therefore evaporates.

But what about the notion that James will exercise his right to fight this outcome? I also have the right to fight Mike Tyson, which then would give him the right to beat me into a bloody pulp.

59 responses to “Broncos avoid $15 million in guarantees to Ja’Wuan James, due to his off-site injury

  1. Well, that’s why we have unions. Round up some of that union due money and help your member out. Easy stuff.

  2. I said they should have drafted Slater before this dude got hurt because he likey was going to be released after this year anyways.

  3. Maybe next time, you’ll work out at the team facility and put all of the pressure and risk on them!

  4. This Bronco fan does not feel sorry for Mr. James. He milked the broncos for many millions and only played a few games. He can sue the union if he wants to for basically encouraging him to stay home and work out. They are the ones who put him at risk.

  5. I’ll go to my grave astonished how weak the NFLPA remains. How they can continue to agree to 10 year labor agreements that don’t include 100% guaranteed contracts, and strike if necessary, like the rest of professional sports is a mystery to me.

  6. I like that Mike Tyson analogy. That applies to a lot of situations where people have to make a decision on exercising their rights

  7. Pretty scummy. If he has talent I’m sure he will be picked up on a rehab contract somewhere. But at the end of the day if the collective bargain allows this then not much else to be said. I don’t expect this to be settled anytime soon.

  8. So he did what the union suggested. I see the union as being. Responsible as well as the agent. They should know these things

  9. Over the last two years he made 17 million dollars and played 3 games! Pretty good money I’d say! Most people would live the rest of their lives on that money! Not this guy I’ll bet.

  10. The union is weak for several reasons. Probably biggest is that players are out of the league in a few years. No incentive for most players to care about long term issues. The league’s most powerful players can all ignore the union because of the individual leverage these players have. Think a. Rodgers. Baseball has a draft and you might not see that player for many years. Football and that guy is ready in a few months.

  11. Gets cleared to play in 2019 after an injury and refuses to take the field, opts out of 2020, then gets hurt off site in 2021. I would be more upset if they DID pay him. Snowflake

  12. I support with the Broncos decision, he should have working out at the Bronco’s facility. The NFL Players Union encouraged players to stay away, the should pay his salary.

  13. Moral of the story is you are better off laying around on the couch than working out if you have guaranteed cash.

  14. This has been a hot mess since we got him. He never wanted to play & always played as little as possible. Worst signing by the Broncos & they got lucky. He got something like 17 million for 3 games in 2 years. We were just lucky enough that he chose to listen to the union. He was never gonna play for the Broncos this year no matter what he would have found a way to sit it out.

  15. It’s hard for fans to feel sorry for well-paid athletes when they have little or no protection in their own jobs due to anti-labor legislation like the misnamed “Right to Work” laws which leave workers few rights. The average NFL career is about three years. The salary structure is skewed to skilled players, especially QBs. I, too, am always amazed how much the NFLPA gives away to billionaire owners. Non-guaranteed contracts are a joke in a sport like football where one injury can end a career. I would love to see the analytics experts show us the true dollars NFL players actually receive in their careers. I understand that most fans do not have empathy for highly-paid player, but the same fans unabashedly root for their teams and receive enormous enjoyment for a sport they love. I find it difficult to watch the NFL, not because of the players, but due to the corporate mentality and greed of the real NFL, its billionaires boys club who screw players left and right, not to mention the fan who truly pay for the sport.

  16. There is insurance for every type of risk. Players should take some out instead of buying another Mercedes.

  17. People being mad at him about the money he made while being hurt are stupid. He was injured. Tom Brady probably made $20m for 2008 and he played 0 games that year! Peyton Manning got paid a lot for a year he missed too. And countless others. Are we supposed to be mad at themfor that? Or just James? And players who opted out last season didn’t get their full salaries so there goes that argument too. I get this is their right based on the CBA but I think the Broncos are scum for this. But maybe the $10m is something they covet more than their reputation. Maybe it was a mistake to sign him I. The first place but I generally don’t like it when teams weasel out of their mistakes due to technicalities. He wasn’t out riding a motorcycle with no helmet (hello Ben Roethlisberger) when he got hurt, he was working out and preparing for the season. I just don’t understand the vitriol for this specific player.

  18. The players are always telling everyone that they just want to be treated as adults and not be told what to do. The problem is they want all the perks but none of the consequences.

    Remember the CBA negotiations where the league was trying to setup more money and programs and health care for life after football and the players wanted none of it if it meant they would get one less dollar today.

    The NFLPA went to the mat in CBA negotiations in 2012 to avoid requiring players to wear hip, thigh, and knee pads because some of their players don’t want to be forced to use them. Safety risks be damned. It’s the NFL’s fault if they get injured anyway, not theirs. This is the NFLPA’s definition of adulting and being responsible.

  19. They are a Lock for a top 10 pick.

    Probably need to clean house after the season.

  20. MostlyRight is exactly right.

    “There is insurance for every type of risk. Players should take some out instead of buying another Mercedes.”

    I will give you an NFL example. Jermichael Finley, former GB Packers TE. Disability insurance. He had the foresight to realize he may not be able to play in the NFL for the life of his contract.

  21. I remember when the Cowboys cut a guy several years ago. They stymied public objections with the following statement: We paid him $4 million, and got four snaps out of him.

    How is this any different,especially given that the guy played in 3 games in 2019, voluntarily opted out of the entire 2020 season, and now will be completely unavailable for the 2021 season? I mean seriously, the guy’s already been paid $17 million (as I understand it) and, by the end of this season, will have played in 9% of the 49 regular season games in which he was paid to play.

  22. savethebs says:
    May 15, 2021 at 11:52 am
    People being mad at him about the money he made while being hurt are stupid. He was injured. Tom Brady probably made $20m for 2008 and he played 0 games that year! Peyton Manning got paid a lot for a year he missed too.
    ———————————–
    What’s stupid is comparing this guy to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He clearly wants no part of playing in the NFL. He was cleared to return by the medical staff 2 years ago and still sat out. Opts out the following year. And doesn’t show up to team workouts this year.

  23. It is almost impossible to offer guaranteed contracts in the NFL due to the roster sizes.
    Much easier for the NBA and MLB.
    This is all on the Union and James’ agent.

  24. savethebs says:
    May 15, 2021 at 11:52 am
    People being mad at him about the money he made while being hurt are stupid. He was injured. Tom Brady probably made $20m for 2008 and he played 0 games that year! Peyton Manning got paid a lot for a year he missed too. And countless others. Are we supposed to be mad at themfor that? Or just James? And players who opted out last season didn’t get their full salaries so there goes that argument too. I get this is their right based on the CBA but I think the Broncos are scum for this. But maybe the $10m is something they covet more than their reputation. Maybe it was a mistake to sign him I. The first place but I generally don’t like it when teams weasel out of their mistakes due to technicalities. He wasn’t out riding a motorcycle with no helmet (hello Ben Roethlisberger) when he got hurt, he was working out and preparing for the season. I just don’t understand the vitriol for this specific player.
    ———————————————————————————————
    Now please tell us all how those players you mentioned helped contribute to their team before getting hurt. Now tell us what James contributed. Not even in the same stadium with similarities. Scum? Reputation? James made over $17 million for 3 games. The CBA was approved by the players through a vote. By the way, over 500 players didn’t care enough to vote.

  25. He made over 200k per snap played with the broncos and he brought this on hisself not followinf the contract working out at the team facility if he keeps pushinf the broncos should go after his signinf bonus

  26. The people in this comments section will always side with the billionaires in suits instead of the guy actually on the field putting their bodies on the line. Ooooh because they want their favorite football team to save couch cushion money. What a disgrace.

  27. Ultimate bottom line for all of us – we have the power of choice.
    When we recognize every choice has a consequence, we become responsible.
    That’s empowering.

  28. First the players must vote on all new contract proposals. Each team has a union rep who will sit down with the team and explain, here are the NEW -not going over entire contract, proposals and changes and what they mean if you agree to them. So this gee, I didn’t know that was in the contract is bs.
    For sure once the contracts are printed each player gets his own copy for his records and can go through it whenever they like.
    the big thing, whether you know or dont know whats in it, the contract is binding once approved so you cant say, nobody told me.
    I’m pretty sure all new players meet with the team rep who goes through the entire contract and explains the ins and outs.
    I’ve never been in a union that didnt do some kind of training and information sessions for the individual and group of employee’s.

  29. Hard to feel sorry for anybody who makes $17 million for playing in just 3 games.

  30. Given what is at risk do these guys get so lost on the value of money that they ignore the contract rules as if they won’t be enforced if something bad does happen?

  31. Loved your last line, Mike. Funny stuff, and true for the majority of us.

  32. The Broncos didn’t “stick it” to James. It was an unfortunate injury but the Broncos had every right to cut him and not pay him. Every other team would have done the same.

  33. This is a good example of what can happen when a union stops focusing on what is good for the workers and instead focuses on what is bad for management.

  34. touchback6 says:

    May 15, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    The people in this comments section will always side with the billionaires in suits instead of the guy actually on the field putting their bodies on the line. Ooooh because they want their favorite football team to save couch cushion money. What a disgrace.
    —————
    It’s actually just common sense for those who have had a job in their life especially if 1 was physical/manual labor type job. If you get injured away from work whether its preparing for work, driving to work etc and cant do your job then you wont get paid.

  35. kevines255 says:

    May 15, 2021 at 11:33 am

    Moral of the story is you are better off laying around on the couch than working out if you have guaranteed cash.

    ———-
    The real moral of the story is to understand your actions and consequences they can have. He would have been better off working out at team facilities where he was offered protection but decided to work out on his own with no protections and ignorance of his contract(just like ignorance of the law) is not an excuse.

  36. Let us also not forget that he was actually working out at the facility prior to taking the unions advice to not attend voluntary workouts. I can’t fault the Broncos for making a business decision. Didn’t James also do the same thing? This is still a business regardless of our fandom of players and/or teams. He has been paid quite a bit of money while previously injured. Sucks to be to get injured and then let go but whoever was looking out for this guy needs to be let go. His agent should have known better to let his client just walk away from the facility knowing that anything that could happen would jeopardize any income. If you ask me, the players need to get together and decide the fate of current leadership because they totally suck

  37. He’s made almost $35,000,000. Save your pity for someone who deserves it. Don’t squander it on this millionaire.

  38. The part that feels rotten is that he was at the facility first, then the NFLPA told the players to not go there, and he left.

    It would be one thing if the NFLPA was trying to advocate for a really vital aspect of player protection, but this felt more like petty corner-cutting – not coming in to train before minicamp? Talk about picking the wrong battles. Now potentially two players’ careers are sunk as a result.

  39. Absolute scumbag franchise. This why it drives me nuts when fans cry at players for holding out. Exactly the reason players need to get as much as they possibly can while they can.

  40. In the memo distributed to all 32 NFL teams by the League office, the clubs were reminded that “an injury sustained while a player is working outside of team supervision in a location that isn’t an NFL facility is considered a non-football injury” and hence is not covered by the standard contractual injury guarantee. This point has been discussed ad nauseum in the past in communications between the League and the NFLPA. This is certainly no insidious secret poison-pill provision…regardless of it’s infrequent application. In any event, I assume that the NFLPA reminded the players and their agents of the this fact as they were advising players NOT to participate in voluntary offseason workouts. And if they did, why are they now so embarrassed as to resort to launching “gutless” labels at the League for taking advantage of poor Mr. James. C’mon. A question also comes to mind as to whether Mr. James’ agent(s) (who should have known of this long standing policy on their own) took the time to have a discussion with the player they represent before allowing them to walk away from a team facility to workout at an unauthorized location. And if they didn’t, the player should be interviewing other more qualified or competent representatives.

  41. Two comments… One, this move by the Broncos has the potential to blow up the NFLPA on some level or another. Their BAD advice has cost two players a lot of money, I doubt any other players will workout away from their team facility unless something changes and that could lead to players being out of football shape come OTA/Camp time. Two, from a legal standpoint how does this situation differ from any person that works from home and gets hurt? Does it not constitute an “on the job injury” from a legal perspective (OSHA, WISHA, etc., etc)?

  42. touchback6 says:
    May 15, 2021 at 12:40 pm
    The people in this comments section will always side with the billionaires in suits instead of the guy actually on the field putting their bodies on the line. Ooooh because they want their favorite football team to save couch cushion money. What a disgrace.
    ————-

    Putting their bodies on the line? Lmao. I think veterans, cops and fireman say hi.

  43. doggz109 says:
    May 15, 2021 at 1:02 pm
    The Broncos didn’t “stick it” to James. It was an unfortunate injury but the Broncos had every right to cut him and not pay him. Every other team would have done the same.

    40 4 Rate This

    —————

    Except one…If NE did this, there’d be claims of classlessness and them being “cheap”.

    The last one always makes me laugh the most of all of em.

  44. touchback6 says:

    May 15, 2021 at 7:45 pm

    doggz109 says:
    May 15, 2021 at 1:02 pm
    The Broncos didn’t “stick it” to James. It was an unfortunate injury but the Broncos had every right to cut him and not pay him. Every other team would have done the same.

    40 4 Rate This

    —————

    Except one…If NE did this, there’d be claims of classlessness and them being “cheap”.

    The last one always makes me laugh the most of all of em.
    ———-
    It’s usually not claims of classlessness against the Patriots it’s the classlessness of you that’s being referred to and your inferiority complex.

  45. Justin Simmons and Brandon McManus should pay Ja’Wuan. They’re the ones who wanted Broncos’ players to not show up to the facility.

  46. The Broncos can take pride in making an example out of James . The NFLPA and agents will take pride in assuring that FAs will go anywhere but Denver and Denver players will be looking to leave first chance they get . Expecting a long , losing season in Denver because of this .

  47. What were his team-recommended other training options away from the facility?

  48. Playing three games then taking and entire season off and thinking, wow I’m really important to this team. Told my daughter who now works from home with hundreds of others from her company, be leary, at some time the employer may ask themselves, wonder how many of these people we really need? Out of sight our of mind does a lot of damage over time.
    This guy should have thought about that and did his work at the facility. He took bad advice and now wants someone else to be responsible for it.

  49. If you sit out and collect a paycheck during Covid, this is unfortunately karma rearing it’s nasty head. Anyone who thinks they should pay him is wrong, plain and simple. He wasn’t there when the team needed him, why should they be there for him?

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