There is an obvious risk players take in opting out of voluntary workouts at team facilities in favor of private, off-site workouts.
Unfortunately, Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James found out first-hand:
Broncos' OT Ja'Wuan James suffered a season-ending torn Achilles working out today away from the team facility, per sources. James' $10 million salary for the upcoming season now is in jeopardy being that Denver no longer is obligated to pay him with him working out off site.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 4, 2021
This stings for all the obvious reasons. James is Denver’s starting right tackle. And thus, an integral part of an offense with two quarterbacks battling for a full-time gig, a running game with ample amounts of young upside, and a group of young pass-catchers who could be game-changers (especially if their OL gives them time to run routes). On top of all that, James’ injury is the latest in a string of bad luck since signing in Denver. James missed 13 games due to a knee injury in 2019, opted out of playing through the COVID-19 pandemic, and now suffers an Achilles injury while working out away from the team.
In addition to all that, James’ injury has us re-thinking how it could impact the rest of the NFL.
Remember, the Broncos were among the first teams to follow the NFLPA’s recommendation for its players to opt out of voluntary offseason workouts at team facilities. And if you’ll recall, the Bears fell in line with many others shortly thereafter with a statement saying “a majority” of players were opting out of in-person voluntary workouts. All this should serve as a reminder that there is real risk in opting out of workouts at team facility to train on your own. James is at risk of losing $10 million in salary. If this scenario wasn’t being discussed before, I imagine players, coaches, and front office folks are talking about it now.
Maybe this will lead to players softening their stances. Perhaps the two sides can reach an agreement that has players returning with desired safety precautions in place. Let’s keep an eye on this situation moving forward, as what happens in reaction to James’ injury bears watching.
NFL teams are currently in the first phase of the offseason training program, which runs through May 14. In this time, there will be no on-field work. The second phase of voluntary workouts for the Bears runs from May 17-21, with limited on-field work. The third phase is a 10-day stretch that can begin as early as May 24. It’s a traditional OTA with in-person or virtual meetings. And at some point, mandatory minicamp. We’ll keep tabs on who’s in, who’s out, and if teams (and players) have a change of heart.