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Denver Broncos right tackle Ja'Wuan James suffered an Achilles tear on Tuesday, a devastating blow for an athlete in his prime.
Making matters considerably worse, James might be out $10 million because of the injury. He suffered the tear while working out away from team facilities, a detail that allows the Broncos to void his otherwise fully guaranteed contract.
To make the situation perfectly clear, the NFL sent out a memo on Wednesday reminding teams — and players — that the Broncos don't owe James a dime of his salary.
NFL makes example of James amid dispute with NFLPA
The injury occurred during a dispute between the NFL and the NFLPA over offseason workouts. Teams across the league reached the voluntary workout portion of their calendars in late April, also known as Phase 1.
This phase of workouts has long been chided by players as less than voluntary, a stance that the NFLPA made formal this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The union urged players to abstain from attending team-organized voluntary workouts, citing concerns over COVID-19 protocols.
Players from more than two-thirds of the league's teams, including the Broncos, submitted formal statements endorsed by the NFLPA that they would not be attending voluntary workouts.
James injured away from Broncos workouts
While some players who have workout bonuses like Von Miller did show up for official Broncos workouts, others chose to prepare for the season off site. James was one of those players.
That was a decision that did not come without risk, a lesson James is learning the hard way. The off-site injury voids his guaranteed money, information that was widely known in the aftermath of James' injury Tuesday. But the NFL made sure to hammer the point home with this memo on Wednesday:
NFL: Broncos 'have no contractual obligation to provide salary'
"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. Such injuries are also not covered by the protections found in paragraph 9 of the NFL Player Contract, meaning that clubs have no contractual obligation to provide salary continuation during the year the injury was sustained."
Translation: You negotiated this, NFLPA. You encouraged players to skip team-facilitated workouts. Now James is potentially out $10 million. This is on you.
The memo, which leads by mentioning James and his $10 million salary specifically, also addresses players who might be confused over what's going on. Take Patrick Mahomes, for instance:
The memo continues:
“According to media coverage, several players have expressed surprise that Mr. James’ injury was not covered by his Injury Guarantee, although this point has been made frequently in our discussions with the NFLPA about the offseason program."
Whether James gets paid his full salary, negotiates a portion of it or gets nothing at all is unclear at this point. That's up to the Broncos. Whatever they choose, the NFL is reminding everyone that the outcome of James' 2021 paycheck is on his — and the NFLPA's — hands.
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