Broncos expect Ja’Wuan James back and a key piece in 2021

Ja'Wuan James, Denver Broncos (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Ja'Wuan James, Denver Broncos (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos signed free agent right tackle Ja’Wuan James to a big-money contract in the 2019 offseason in hopes that he would solve a longstanding issue at a position of great need.

On paper, that’s exactly what James did.

The addition of James in 2019 free agency helped fans sleep a little easier at night knowing the Broncos had at least thrown a bunch of money at a young, former first-round draft choice. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out great for the Broncos and James.

James struggled through a knee injury in 2019 and barely played in his first year as a Bronco. He then decided to opt-out of the 2020 season with the COVID pandemic, an increased risk of injuries (which the Broncos experienced heavily), and the birth of his child.

When James opted out of the 2020 season, his contract tolled for a full year, which means that what he was scheduled to make from 2020-22 has all shifted to 2021-23. There is no easy out of James’ contract for the Broncos, and it’s more beneficial to see if he can be an asset in 2021 rather than cut him and actually subtract $6 million from their 2021 cap number.

The best-case scenario for everyone involved is that James returns to Denver in 2021, plays at a high level, and becomes the player they initially signed him to be.

Broncos general manager George Paton and head coach Vic Fangio each spoke with the media on Thursday and addressed James’ situation.

"I’ve had a good discussion with Ja’Wuan and his agent Bill Johnson and he’s ready to go. He said he missed football and he’s looking forward to getting here and working and being with his teammates, and I’m looking forward to meeting him and seeing him play next year.George Paton (via Broncos press conference)I’ve talked to him a couple times and he definitely is planning on coming back and being part of the team moving forward. He’s down South right now training. I’m expecting him back here mid-late March for him to start training here with us, using our facilities, and then obviously if OTAs come about, partaking in those. We’re counting and anticipating on him being part of our team next year.Vic Fangio (via Broncos press conference)"

Considering how tough the first couple of years have been with James and the Broncos, as well as the team really having no clarity at the right tackle spot, this is all great to hear.

There is no question that it should come as no surprise that one of the highest-paid players on the team in 2021 should be in contact with the new general manager and the head coach. James really has to do everything in his power to make 2021 the best year of his NFL career.

The Broncos gave him $27 million in fully guaranteed money at signing with $32 million in total guarantees. Although James had a salary cap hit of just $8 million in 2019 and that is all that has been officially on the books for the team at this point, they have invested a lot of money in him and need to get a return on that investment.

With a new GM in place and the rest of the offensive line really clicking, perhaps this will be a great situation for James to step into. Luckily, he won’t be coming in completely cold having played some in 2019, but there is concern about the layover from the last time he played the game.

This is a big year for the Broncos and a player like James — if he’s healthy and engaged — makes this roster offensively even better.