Ja’Wuan James is reportedly going after the Denver Broncos. The veteran offensive tackle was without an NFL home prior to reportedly signing a two-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, per Adam Schefter of ESPN, after having been released by the Broncos just over a year ago following a torn Achilles suffered while training, but this is where the disconnect lies because of how the team labeled the release.
In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down NFL facilities last spring, James was training away from the team facility and the Broncos placed an NFI (non-football injury) designation on him — which voided the remainder of James’ guaranteed money. That amounted to $15 million, and James has now filed a grievance against the team — per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk — making the argument his torn Achilles should’ve been listed as a football injury. The following excerpts are reportedly from paragraphs 5 and 15 of the filed grievance:
“Claimant was not working out on his own. Claimant was working out as expressly and/or impliedly authorized and/or instructed by Respondent’s agents, including but not limited to the instructions and/or direction of the coach of Respondent and/or other agents of Respondent. Claimant was working out with other players on the team at the facility and mentoring younger players as requested and/or expressly and/or impliedly authorized by Respondent through its agent and/or agents.”
” … [T]he intent and purpose behind the NFI designation — a highly controversial provision found in Article 20 of the CBA that was requested by the NFL in contested CBA negotiations — would not be served by designating the injury here as an NFI. The purported historical purpose of an NFI designation is for protection against reckless and improper off-field player conduct. 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.”
The grievance will be handled according to the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, and 40 percent of the contested amount ($6 million) will be held against the Broncos cap until it is resolved. It is being argued on James’ behalf by attorneys Mark Geragos, Ben Meiselas and Daniel Lust.
James, 29, is a former 19th overall pick of the Miami Dolphins (2014), where he played out his rookie contract before joining the Broncos in 2019 on a four-year, $51 million deal signed in free agency. He’d go on to miss the majority of that season with a knee injury and, as mentioned above, did not play a single snap in 2020. With his grievance now filed, the Broncos can respond and defend their stance in the hopes of avoiding having to cough up $15 million — money James believes is owed to him due to his workouts having been both authorized and instructed by the Broncos.