Ja'Wuan James' Opt-Out Another Example of Broncos' Right Tackle Curse
The Denver Broncos had to begin the second week of training camp without starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James after the sixth-year veteran opted out of playing the 2020 NFL season, citing safety concerns as a result of the pandemic.
Under the newly-amended collective bargaining agreement, NFL players have until Wednesday, August 5 to inform teams if they choose to opt-out of the 2020 season. James had spent time this past offseason (during the pandemic) participating in the unofficial practice sessions away from team facilities that were organized by second-year QB Drew Lock. James reported to training camp last Tuesday.
It has yet to be determined whether James will earn $150K for sitting out the 2020 season or $350K — if he garners the higher-risk opt-out designation. While the Broncos won’t have to pay James his $10M base salary this year, his contract resumes at that level in 2021.
The former first-round draft pick out of the University of Tennessee has already been paid $17 million of the $32M in total guarantees his four-year contract with the Broncos garnered. In 2019, James only played 63 snaps.
He received criticism from Head Coach Vic Fangio for not being “mentally and emotionally ready” to play following a knee injury originally sustained 10 snaps in the season-opener. James was later medically cleared by the team's doctors, which saw him start his third game in Week 14, only to see him last two quarters. James did not make another on-field appearance in 2019.
And now, he'll forego the entire 2020 campaign.
Enter panic mode for the Broncos. This past offseason, GM John Elway announced that the left tackle position would be up for grabs between Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson. Now, the optics suggest that the incumbent Bolles will remain the starting left tackle, while Wilkinson will once again be forced into action at right tackle.
It's not an easy task for any tackle in the NFL, as Wilkinson and O-Line Coach Mike Munchak must now reverse engineer his mechanics, sets, and assignments to start on the right side.
Broncos Country has long endured the desolate search for a bookend tackle to anchor the right side of the line. While the Broncos have made many attempts to fill the position, overwhelming failure has accompanied every acquisition at the position.
Free agents and draft selections the team has tapped in hopes of solving the right tackle conundrum include the likes of Orlando Franklkin, Michael Schofield, Ty Sambrailo, Donald Stephenson, Menelik Watson, Allen Barbre, and Jared Veldheer, all of whom have all flamed out in Denver in one form or another.
As KUSA's Mike Klis said, the Broncos are categorically disappointed as the team was counting on James in 2020. As it stands, James hasn’t started or finished a game in his first two seasons as a Bronco.
That’s just a fact, not a personal attack against the man, who has the prerogative to opt-out of 2020 football under the NFL's recent CBA amendments.
Just hours after James’ opt-out was confirmed by the team, the Broncos activated Wilkinson from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and expect him to play in James’ place. Losing James hurts the depth for the O-line, leaving Jake Rodgers, Calvin Anderson, Quinn Bailey, and undrafted rookie Hunter Watts as backup options at offensive tackle.
“At some point you’ll see the Broncos try and get a swing tackle that can play both positions,” said Klis on Monday. Klis also speculated on the possibility of Elway shopping for an offensive tackle via trade.
Fans should expect the Broncos to bring in one or two offensive linemen to compete in camp. By not selecting an offensive tackle in the 2020 draft, the Broncos have limited themselves to what they have in the cupboard.
Unless Elway agrees to pay a king's ransom to ensure the safety of Lock, that is.