Editor’s Note: An hour after this story posted, news broke that Derwin James is reportedly signing a 4-year extension that will make him the highest paid safety in the NFL.
Whenever an NFL player gets into a contract squabble with his team everybody obviously picks a side.
The player, his agents and family pick one side.
The team, including management, pick the other side.
And, of course, fans invariably pick a side.
So Tuesday was kind of interesting in Los Angeles because Chargers’ safety Derwin James, conducting a contract “sit-in,” missed his 14th consecutive training camp practice while his side continued trying to extract a contract extension from management.
All this while Brandon Staley, who is part of management as the team’s head coach, was in front of reporters giving the James representation—the other side—ammunition in those negotiations.
James is on this training camp sit-in because he wants a contract extension that would make him the league’s highest-paid safety.
He’s looking for a deal that would exceed the $72,988,000 deal Minkah Fitzpatrick recently signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fitzpatrick was drafted No. 11 overall in the 2018 draft and James went No. 17 to the Chargers in the same draft.
And now James wants a deal that exceeds the $36 million total guaranteed money Fitzpatrick got and the league high (for a safety) $18,247,000 per year average Fitzpatrick got.
The Chargers have obviously not been quite able to offer James that money yet. And they might have reasons for that, among them the fact James has had durability issues during his career.
A foot injury limited him to five games in 2019 and a knee injury forced him to miss all of the 2020 season.
Brandon Staley: ‘I Look At Derwin James As An Impact Player’
So those are concerns management obviously has to raise in a contract negotiation to protect the team from overpaying for a so-far injury-prone player, no matter how good he is when healthy.
Except Staley just extinguished whatever durability questions the club could be stoking in the negotiations.
“I don’t worry about Derwin,” Staley said when asked how James’s injury history factors in the contract talks. “Derwin has given us no reason to worry because of how he is on a day-to-day basis.
“We see him every day. It’d be one thing if he wasn’t here, but we see him every day. He’s in the best shape of his life. This is the first time in a while that he has had a full offseason with nothing to prohibit him from training. He feels great, so that gives us a lot of confidence.”
That’s the sound of the safety’s value going up.
Staley wasn’t finished. James wants to be paid like the NFL’s best safety and that’s one thing. But Staley sees him as something much greater.
“I don’t look at Derwin as a safety,” Staley said. “I look at Derwin as an impact player. I think the reason why, if you were just looking at him as safety, that wouldn’t be doing Derwin justice. For me, I look at him as a defensive back.
“When I see him, I’m like, ‘That’s a defensive back,’ because he can play anywhere; he can play either safety spot, he can play corner, he can play Star or Money, he can rush the quarterback and make an impact as a blitzer, he can make an impact in man-to-man coverage, and then he can make an impact in zone defense, whether he’s playing low or high.”
So James can now make the negotiating point to management he’s actually more valuable than a safety and management cannot argue because management just said as much.
And there was still more.
“He’s our signal-caller and the heartbeat of our defense,” Staley said. “If you just looked at him as a safety playing safety, you wouldn’t look at him as the same way you do as a defensive back. I think he has the rare combination of all of those factors, plus the intangibles of impact in the defense and in the team every snap, from an intangible standpoint.”
It’s like Staley has joined the James negotiating team.
Staley: ‘Derwin Is Going To Be Ready’
The coach even gave James public cover for continuing his hold-in until he gets a new contract or the regular-season begins — whichever comes first.
Because Staley isn’t worried whether James will be in shape and ready for the season without practicing.
“I don’t worry about Derwin James because there is no one that has more pride in his performance and his ability to be in shape, mentally and physically, to do the job at the highest level than him,” Staley gushed. “Fortunately, I have a little bit of a background with a situation like that.
“When we traded for Khalil [Mack] in Chicago, Khalil did not have an offseason. He did not have a training camp. He showed up one week before the first game. Then, he had the game of his life. Then, he had his best season as an NFL player. If you know guys like Derwin and like Khalil, they’re going to be ready.
“No matter when this happens, Derwin is going to be ready. We can’t wait for that time when it comes.”
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