The Denver Broncos invested $51 million over four years in offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James this past spring. It was at the time the biggest right tackle contract in the history of the league.
Fast forward to Week 17 and James has appeared in just three games for the Broncos, seeing a grand total of 63 snaps. James suffered what we were told was a knee sprain in the season-opener at Oakland, which has ostensibly plagued him throughout the balance of the season.
We've heard from Vic Fangio on the subject, and the Broncos' head coach has seemed as mystified as the fans when it comes to James' mysterious injury. However, on Christmas Eve, we finally got some context from the player himself.
James spoke publicly for the first time with Nicki Jhabvala of the Athletic, clearing, as it were, the air.
"I tore some ligaments in my knee the first game of the season," James said. "Was working back to get it healed, came back for that Colts game and ended up reinjuring it. I re-tore all the scar tissue that was healing and then ended up tearing part of my meniscus. They said it wouldn't be that serious but when I was out there, even at practice, trying to come back, my knee was buckling on me. It was just weak because the ligaments weren't strong."
Again, that injury was originally sustained Week 1 vs. Oakland. James returned for action in Week 8 at Indianapolis and only played about 20 snaps before reaggravating the knee.
Fast forward to Week 14 and the Broncos are preparing for Houston. James was working to get himself ready for the Texans, where he played essentially the entire first half.
"So then I practiced, I think it was for two weeks to try to get back and get ready for the Houston game," James said. "The plan going into it was to play for the half, and I ended up playing the half, but all through especially the second quarter, my knee was just giving out on me. So after talking to the coaches and trainers and stuff like that, and the second opinion with the doctor, and he was like, 'Hey, man. We don't feel you'll need surgery. But the doctor said before if you put a brace on it, you should be all right. But you went out in the Colts game and re-tore some stuff'. So, he said, 'Your ligaments need time to heal'. So I'm just really trying to get this healed so I don't have to worry about it in the offseason and next year, so next season I can be fully healthy and put this behind me."
The veracity of James' side of the story might be challenged down the line by the Broncos' brass but if he really tore ligaments, it's no wonder he was unable to work back into the lineup. The question is, why didn't the Broncos place him on injured reserve if the team knew his injury was that serious?
Perhaps we'll get some context later in the week when Coach Fangio meets with the media, or at worst, when GM John Elway holds his end-of-season press conference next week.