ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It wasn’t so much Ja’Wuan James had a left knee injury that kept him out all year.
It was that there were whispers, even out loud insinuations he wasn’t injured enough to not play.
Some of this belief came from people reading between the lines when Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said James was medically “cleared to play …. But he’s got to get mentally ready to play, emotionally ready to play.”
James said he was unaware of the questions about his willingness to play until he was approached by a 9News reporter about it two weeks ago.
“I honestly didn’t because I stay off social media,’’ he said Tuesday. “Not until you told me last week. But if the coaches said that, I take it as coach motivational talk. I’ve played football a long time. I’ve played through pain. But this was something way different. This was my knee giving out on me when I’m on the field and just buckling on me. That’s way different than pain.’’
James picked Christmas Eve to clear up the mystery about his left knee injury. He said he suffered a torn MCL on what was the 10th play of the season at Oakland, came back and had a player fall on his left ankle in game 8 at Indianapolis. That stressed the left knee so that he suffered a partially torn meniscus and re-tore the scar tissue around his MCL.
On the day before Christmas, with a walking cane resting at the side of his locker, James was ready to face the media and politely answered all questions. One reason for the timing was he had recently received a second medical opinion, which gave him the peace of knowing the extent of his injury.
“I didn’t have surgery,’’ he said. “Talking to two different doctors, they were saying this thing needs time to heal. My ligaments are still torn and my knee was giving out on me and buckling.
“Pain is one thing. I’ve dealt with pain. It’s football. We’re going to go through pain. But that (instability) was the biggest thing for me. And after talking to (the doctors) they were like this thing just needs time to heal. We don’t want to do surgery right now. Let it try to heal over and scar over and you should be fine, hopefully in the offseason.’’
James essentially played one game this year – about a quarter against the Raiders, a quarter against the Colts, and the first half of the Broncos’ 12th game at Houston. He didn’t play the second half at Houston because he felt his knee buckling.
One game’s worth from a player who the Broncos in March made the highest-paid right tackle in the league. James was on the books for $17 million this year -- $12 million in signing bonus and $5 million in salary. And he’s got another $15 million in guarantees coming.
When a player makes all that money and can’t play, does he still feel bad about not getting out there and playing even if he is injured?
“Not even from the money standpoint,’’ James said. “Just from standpoint that I wanted to come here and make an impact on this team. I’m more of a person who is going to lead by example than I will rah-rah and I feel like I haven’t had a chance to go out there besides camp to go show my play.
“I just want to put it behind me and just go forward with it and not worry about my knee this offseason. Just get it healthy and so going into next year I’ve got a clear mind with it.”
He said he’s hoping to be ready by the start of 2020 OTAs in May.
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