Broncos tackle Ja’Wuan James made headlines earlier this week when he suffered a torn Achilles'—an injury that will assuredly sideline him for the upcoming 2021 season—while working out at home. Because James’ injury occurred off premises rather than at a team facility, the Broncos, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, are no longer obligated to pay his $10-million salary. Though this rule was collectively bargained and written into James’ contract, it seems unfair that a technicality could cost him $10 million.
The conversation surrounding James should allow for some nuance. It’s not as if James did something overtly reckless like racing a motorcycle or getting behind the wheel after a few too many. James’ only crime was getting hurt somewhere other than Denver’s facility. With players still largely working off-site amid the COVID pandemic, it’s farcical to suggest James—the victim of a freak accident—did anything remotely wrong.
If the punishment for getting injured at home is a year’s salary, what incentive do players have to train at all during the offseason? That hypocrisy was not lost on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who took to Twitter in support of James. Many of Mahomes’ current and past teammates including Pro Bowl receiver Tyreek Hill shared similar thoughts, questioning why the NFL would single out James for something that could have happened to anyone.
The NFL double-downed on its stance in an email sent out to teams earlier this week. “Injuries sustained while a player is working out ‘on his own’ in a location other than an NFL facility are considered ‘Non-Football Injuries’ and are outside the scope of a typical skill, injury and cap guarantee,” the memo warned. “Clubs are encouraged 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 at a non-NFL location.”
The NFLPA issued an emphatic response Thursday, accusing the league of employing “scare tactics” to get players back on the field after many teams boycotted voluntary workouts due to COVID. “This memo is another sign of what [the NFL] thinks of you and also affirms that they want to control you year-round in any and every way that they can,” union leaders expressed via ESPN's Jeff Legwold. “We have been in touch with Ja'Wuan James. Despite an open threat of an 'NFI' designation, Ja'Wuan was working out to stay in shape under a program recommended to him by his coach.”
A former first-round pick who started 62 games over his five-year tenure with the Dolphins, James has barely played since joining the Broncos on a four-year, $51-million contract, missing most of 2019 due to a knee injury before opting out of last season over COVID concerns.