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Ja’Wuan James’ union cost him nearly $9 million.
On Monday, it was revealed that James settled a $10 million claim from the 2021 season against the Denver Broncos for $1.09 million. James, who is now a backup with Baltimore, was a member of the Broncos in the 2021 offseason when he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon working out on May 4.
However, James was not working out at the Broncos facility. Instead, he was on his own, following advice from NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith (and echoed by NFLPA President J.C. Tretter) to stay away from the offseason conditioning program.
Under rules of the Collective Bargain Agreement, which was negotiated by Smith and the NFLPA with the NFL, James’ injury was considered a Non-Football Injury (or NFI as it is known in football management parlance). Thus, James’ $10 million salary guarantee for the 2021 season was essentially erased.
While James filed a grievance that was settled for the $1.09 million on Tuesday, he lost the roughly $9 million difference between the agreement and what he had been guaranteed.
In April 2021, Smith has been vocal in his call to players, both publicly and privately, to resist the pressure to participate in “voluntary” offseason workouts. During an interview on ABC News on April 17, 2021, Smith said: “I think what a lot of players have said that they’ve heard from their coaches is that they need to show up,” Smith said Saturday on SportsCenter. “We’ve known for years that this is a voluntary workout where a lot of coaches put their finger on the scale and, while they call it voluntary, they expect players to show up.
“I think that what you’re seeing now is for the first time players exercising their voice … to say ‘no.’ And frankly it’s probably one of the few times that coaches have ever heard players say ‘no.’ And for some players, it’s probably the first time they’ve said ‘no’ to their coach.”
Smith’s comments were part of a concerted effort by the union to get players to ignore the voluntary portion of offseason work. At the time, the union touted that players from roughly half the NFL’s teams had announced via the NFLPA that they wouldn’t participate in the voluntary workout.
In May, Tretter continued to advise that players stay away from the offseason program in a column he penned for the NFLPA website (Understanding the Player Perspective | NFLPA)
This offseason, the NFLPA was noticeably silent on the issue of whether players should take part in voluntary workouts.
James’ agent, Bill Johnson, and NFLPA spokesman George Atallah did not respond to questions about the settlement.