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Broncos' Ja'Wuan James is latest NFL player to opt out, passing on $10M salary this year

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The list of NFL players choosing to opt out of the 2020 NFL season amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic is growing.

The Denver Broncos’ Ja’Wuan James is the latest player to announce he’ll skip the upcoming season. The Broncos signed him to four-year, $51 million deal last March, and James was scheduled to earn $10 million in base salary this season.

James and his wife had a baby boy back in May, which he said helped seal his decision. The message reads, in part:

“After continuous conversation with my family over the past couple weeks about the NFL figuring out the plan for the 2020 season, I've decided to opt out. It is tough, but the right decision. There's just too much unknown about this virus & about plans handling it going forward. My wife & I were blessed with our newborn son May 22 & he's now my top priority. Although I worked all offseason & invest in my body to bounce back & have a great year on the field, it's just not worth risking the health of my loved ones. I've seen this virus already hospitalize one of my family members & hope to not have that happen again. We can't live in fear or just confine ourselves just to our homes but we all have to make the right conscious choices and navigate through day to day life to protect our neighbors.”

James was limited to 63 snaps last season, battling knee injuries all year in 2019. He started three games but could not finish any of them.

Back in April, John Elway said he had high expectations for James in his second season in Denver.

“We have great expectations with him coming back and being the right tackle for us and playing like he’s capable of playing,” Elway said after the draft.

Now that’s not happening.

In James’ place, Elijah Wilkinson started 12 games last season. It appears that Wilkinson and Bolles now are the starting tackles again, although the depth up front appears to be quite thin. Prior to James opting out, Wilkinson and Bolles were slated to battle for the starting left tackle job.

Other players who could compete at tackle include veterans Calvin Anderson, Quinn Bailey, Tyler Jones and Jake Rodgers, plus undrafted rookie Hunter Watts from Central Arkansas.

James’ contract will toll to 2021. This was viewed as a prove-it season for James, as the team only would have suffered a $6 million dead-cap hit had they chosen to cut him after this coming season, along with an $8 million cap savings in 2021. But with James sitting this year out, the team would be on the hook for $19 million in dead money next year if they moved on from him.

James is the second Broncos player to opt out so far. Denver previously placed Kyle Peko on the Reserve/Higher Risk Opt-Out list.

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