NFL Player’s Settlement Costs Him Nearly $9 Million

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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.

LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 24: Offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James #70 of the Denver Broncos on the sideline during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams of at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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.

BALTIMORE, MD – AUGUST 11: Ja’Wuan James #71 of the Baltimore Ravens takes the field before the game against the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

“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.

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.


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