The former Denver Broncos’ offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James ruptured his achilles while training outside of the Broncos’ facilities. After the team cut him and refused to compensate his injury, James has filed a $15M grievance.
The Denver Broncos’ recently released offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James, a 2014 first-round pick who came to Denver in 2019. The release came after a dispute between James and Denver over his Achilles injury, which he ruptured outside of the Broncos facilities in May. Denver refused to cover his hospital expenses, citing that the injury was a “non-football injury.”
James claims that he was working off-site in a mentoring role with some of the younger players on the team. He claims that this was in some way requested by the Denver staffers. The suit also mentions that the Broncos facilities were not up to Colorado state Covid-19 guidelines. He is seeking $15M in damages, his guaranteed salary over the next two seasons.
James is represented by Mark Geragos, Ben Meiselas, and Dan Lust from the Geragos Law Firm out of New York City. The trio previously represented former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick with his collusion case against the NFL.
Where the case appears to have leverage
Ja’Wuan James has a potentially groundbreaking case between NFL clubs and the NFL Players Association. Teams have always made it clear to players to come into the facility to work out because they aren’t covered outside of the premises in an injury. If James was indeed working out in a manner “specifically authorized” by the Broncos, partially in a teaching capacity, shouldn’t he had been covered?
Shortly after James’ injury, the NFL released a memo directly in response to his situation. It stated that “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 of the scope of typical skill, injury and cap guarantee.” James’ case states that because he wasn’t working out ‘on his own,’ but rather in a situation “expressly and/or impliedly authorized and/or instructed by Respondent’s agents,” as the complaint states, it should be considered a ‘football-related injury.’
The Covid-19 claim is cited on ‘information and belief,’ which means that the lawyers believe that Denver was operating outside of state guidelines but don’t know it for a fact yet. Part of the case will be finding out if Denver truly was. This could potentially build on James’ case against Denver, showing that he had no other options to remain fit for his job.
Is there collusion involved?
While the initial complaint does not claim collusion, evidence could light possible collusion between the Denver Broncos and the NFL. Ja’Wuan James was initially placed on the reserve/non-football injury list after his injury before being cut a week later. This could potentially hint at Denver working with the NFL to make an example of James for other NFL players. If collusion is proven, per paragraph 17 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL would be forced to pay out double the compensation of the grievance.
“The purported historical purpose of an NFI designation is for protection against reckless and improper off-field player conduct,” the grievance states. “The intent was and is not to retaliate against veteran players (or any player) like Claimant during a global pandemic who are injured in the course and scope of employment when training for their Club and/or with the guidance and/or knowledge from the Club. A disturbing and dangerous precedent would be set by embracing such an interpretation that completely disregards player safety and basic dignity.”
After the grievance was filed, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they were signing James to a 2-year, $9M deal that will allow him to rehab this season for around $500,000 in guaranteed money, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. His contract next season will be north of $8M.
NFL Sapient will be following this throughout the process of the case.