Pour a cold one, Ian Desmond, wherever you are. The crummiest free-agent signing in Denver over the last five years no longer wears No. 20 in Rockies purple.
Sorry, Dez. Ja’Wuan James just stole your thunder.
Your thunder and a city’s shame.
After Tuesday, the biggest bummer belongs to big No. 70 in Broncos blue. And it gets worse by the day.
Former Broncos general manager John Elway signed James for $51 million — $32 million of it guaranteed — in March 2019 to stop the franchise’s revolving door at right tackle. Instead, that door sped up. James has appeared in three games in two seasons. He was banged up in 2019. He opted out of 2020 because of COVID-19.
Big No. 70’s logged 63 game snaps on the line for Denver in 25 months, or exactly 63 more than your next-door neighbor. Since the summer of 2019, James has also raked in an estimated $17 million, which comes out to $270,546 per snap.
On Tuesday afternoon, word got out that James had wrecked his Achilles tendon, likely ending his 2021 season in May, during an off-site workout. James was training off-site at the behest of the NFLPA and the union’s protest of voluntary workouts at team facilities.
Because it took place away from Dove Valley, the injury could reportedly cost James up to $13 million — on top of the close to $10 million he forfeited last year by opting out.
So, sooo bad.
The Broncos just completed a second straight NFL draft — 10 picks, mind you — in which they declined to select a single offensive tackle. A franchise that’s had 20 picks to play with since April 2020 has opted to spend none of those lottery tickets in order to shore up one of the most important positions on the offensive depth chart.
Yes, it was a top-heavy tackle class in 2021, without a lot of sexy depth. But that doesn’t excuse GM George Paton electing to shop in the collegiate free-agent aisle and hope for the best. Or trusting that Elway left everything kosher along the edges. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak got Garett Bolles pointed in the right direction, but the man can’t turn water into wine.
So, so, sooooo bad.
“We targeted a few that were taken right before we took them,” Paton told reporters this past Saturday when the topic of the Broncos’ offensive tackle options, or lack thereof, was broached. “But it didn’t fall our way. We still feel good about our depth.”
Now? Now, not so much.
Former Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz would be an upgrade, if his back is sound. Ex-Bears tackle Charles Leno, just released by the Bears, is plenty familiar to Paton and Fangio. The offensive line right now is overloaded with meat in the middle, with new local cult hero Quinn “The Gut” Meinerz — the big lug from Wisconsin who pushes over trees with his bare hands — projected to join Netane Muti in a center-guard mix that already includes Dalton Risner, Graham Glasgow and Lloyd Cushenberry.
Risner played 38 of his 50 tilts at Kansas State manning the right tackle spot, so there’s that. Hey, as Plan Bs go, it’s not any wackier than what’s already on the table.
We can debate whether James is the worst Broncos free-agent signing ever, now that this chapter is nearing an ignominious end. It sure feels like a cinch for the top four, though, forever enshrined in The Mount Rushmore Of Smoldering Cash next to the faces of Daryl Gardener, Dale Carter and Denard Walker.
Busts, all. And, as Dez could tell you, it’s awfully lonely at the top.
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