Broncos HC Vic Fangio Says Injured RT Ja'Wuan James Won't Need Surgery, 'Should be Fine'
The Denver Broncos signed Ja'Wuan James to a four-year, $52 million contract last spring. He was signed to solve the team's long-term right tackle woes and tapped to start opposite of the beleaguered Garett Bolles.
James was signed with a fair measure of risk, as he had only played a full 16-game season in two of the five years he'd been in the league. However, the Broncos moved forward and paid him top dollar, perhaps in desperation for wanting to solve what has been one of the team's most consistent problems over the years.
Everything was fine until James got to the regular season. In Week 1, he suffered a sprained knee 10 snaps into the game and wouldn't be seen in the starting lineup again until Week 8 where he'd last only 22 plays before exiting.
The Broncos nursed him along, reticent to cut bait and put their prized free-agent signing on injured reserve, and so James played once more in 2019, starting in Week 14 where he played the entire first half. Elijah Wilkinson relieved him at right tackle once again and that was the last we saw of James in the Orange and Blue.
Considering that the Broncos are locked into the James contract for 2020, getting him on the field is of the utmost importance. In his mandated press conference at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, head coach Vic Fangio spoke to what the future holds for James.
"No, he won't need surgery," Fangio said on Tuesday. "He should be fine."
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James spoke with reporters as he cleaned out his locker at season's end. Suffice to say, he didn't agree with the public posture the Broncos had taken with regard to his knee injury and even implied that the team had tried to force him to play on a compromised knee.
"I tore some ligaments in my knee the first game of the season," James said in December via Nicki Jhabvala of the Athletic. "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."
While it's good to know that he won't need surgery, the James situation baffles even the most plugged-in insiders at Dove Valley. The way the Broncos handled his injury last year might be questionable, but James arrived in Denver with a reputation for being 'soft' and for being an 'injury milker'.
It's hard to know who to believe in the he-said/she-said of NFL PR battles. One thing's for sure; the Broncos need to get some kind of return on the investment made into James almost one year ago.
The Broncos' best offensive performance of the 2019 season came with James playing at right tackle for a half. That's not a coincidence. He's a very talented, former first-round player.
The Broncos want to keep second-year QB Drew Lock healthy and upright and James gives them the best chance to do so. But he's got to get out on the field and stay there.
You hope that when Fangio says James "will be fine" that it's the truth. But too often last year, the team's public talking points didn't jive with what we were seeing on the field and hearing behind closed doors. Fingers crossed.