Right tackle Ja’Wuan James’ Broncos career is likely over after he sustained a torn Achilles tendon Tuesday while training at an off-site facility in the Denver area, a source confirmed.
James had been training at the Broncos’ facility this offseason until the NFLPA began urging players to boycott on-site work, which was supervised by the team’s strength and conditioning staff, and get ready for the season off-site.
Signed to a four-year, $51 million contract in March 2019, James was limited three halves of action and 63 snaps because of multiple knee issues.
Shortly before training camp last summer, James exercised his ability to opt out of the season due to coronavirus concerns.
But general manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio spoke highly of James’ offseason work recently and were counting on him to play right tackle.
Instead, the Broncos must now consider all in- and out-house options after Elijah Wilkinson and Demar Dotson played right tackle last year. Wilkinson signed with Chicago in March and Dotson remains a free agent.
If the Broncos act quickly, they could sign Charles Leno, who was cut by the Bears on Tuesday. The 29-year old Leno started all 16 games the last five years at left tackle, making the Pro Bowl in 2018.
The in-house option is Calvin Anderson, who started one game last year at left tackle and was projected to lead the back-up tackle competition. The Broncos are expected to sign Illinois State undrafted free agent tackle Drew Himmelman before this month’s rookie minicamp. Quinn Bailey is also on the roster.
Because James was injured off-site, the Broncos can release him without paying him this year’s base salary, which is $10 million guaranteed. That would be the smart financial play, but James’ camp would undoubtedly file a grievance to re-coup some of the money.
If the Broncos move on from James, they wouldn’t automatically gain $10 million in cash and cap space, according to a league executive. While a grievance is being heard, they would still have to carry some of that salary on their books.
This story will be updated.