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Broncos exploring right tackle market following James' injury

Ja’Wuan James suffered a torn Achilles, but because injury happened away from the team facility, the Broncos may not have to pay his $10.58 million salary.

DENVER — Sure, the timing of Ja’Wuan James’ injury could have been better.

Had it happened a week earlier, the Denver Broncos’ general manager George Paton most certainly would have drafted a right tackle. (The team saw multiple offensive tackles it coveted get drafted ahead of their picks in rounds 3 through 5).

But the timing of James’ season-ending Achilles’ injury suffered Tuesday during an off-site workout could have also been worse.

Given James’ history, his large tendon-stressed frame of 6-foot-6, 312 pounds, and the fact he had essentially been inactive the previous two years, he didn’t figure to make it through a 17-game regular season, anyway.

In his first five seasons with the Dolphins, he missed nine games in his second year of 2015 and eight games in his fourth year of 2017.

RELATED: Broncos lose right tackle Ja'Wuan James to season-ending Achilles injury

He didn’t make it to the second half of any games for the Broncos since he signed a four-year, $51 million contract in March 2019 that made him, at the time, the league’s highest-paid right tackle. James suffering his season-ending injury now and not, say, late in training camp or game two of the regular season allows the Broncos time to find his replacement – even if the pool of available offensive tackles has shrunk considerably since free agency opened nearly two months ago.

The Broncos should have $10.43 million in extra 2021 cash to play with, the savings from James’ injury. James was scheduled to make $10 million this year from his original deal with the Broncos. The added 17th game would have paid him another $579,412, so call it a $10.58 million payout.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James takes the field on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.

But because James suffered his Achilles injury away from the team facility – he had been working out at Broncos’ headquarters before the start of the Phase I conditioning period at which time he honored the NFL players union request to not participate in teams’ offseason program – there is a belief his guarantees will be voided and the Broncos will not have to pay his $10.58 million. (During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, James received a $150,000 opt-out advance. It’s unclear whether the team would be entitled to ask for that $150,000 back, or if it would.)

RELATED: Paton explains Broncos draft: 'You do get in trouble when you reach for need'

According to multiple NFL sources, the Broncos started calling agents of available offensive tackles on Tuesday before the team learned of James’ final diagnosis. The team is expected to bring in multiple tackles for visits in the coming days. Among the offensive tackles available are Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Eric Fisher, Demar Dotson (who started eight games for the Broncos last year), Dennis Kelly and Cameron Fleming.

Update: 9News has confirmed the Broncos are bringing in veteran right tackles Bobby Massie and Dennis Kelly for visits next week.

Elijah Wilkinson, who started 19 games at right tackle for the Broncos the previous two years, became a free agent this spring and signed with the Bears. Other once free-agent tackles who are no longer on the market include Alejandro Villanueva, Zach Banner, Daryl Williams, Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers.

The Broncos currently have Calvin Anderson, who started two games last season and played in all 16, as their top backup swing tackle. Quinn Bailey, who spent most of the past two seasons on the team's practice squad, and newly signed undrafted rookie Drew Himmelman are other offensive tackles on the Broncos' roster.

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