NFLPA blasts league memo on Ja'Wuan James injury, salary as 'gutless,' 'scare tactic'

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The NFLPA issued a scathing response on Thursday to an NFL memo that endorsed the Denver Broncos' right to withhold right tackle Ja'Wuan James $10 million salary after he suffered an Achilles injury. 

The letter is the latest in an ongoing back-and-forth about team-sanctioned voluntary workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was sent after a meeting of the NFLPA's Board of Player Representatives in response to the NFL memo and called for players to continue to refrain from attending voluntary workouts.

Cleveland Browns guard and union president JC Tretter and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith signed the letter.

"It was gutless to use a player’s serious injury as a scare tactic to get you to come running back to these workouts," the letter reads. "The memo is yet another sign of what they think of you and also affirms that they simply want to control you year-round in any and every way that they can."

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How we got here

The NFL memo sent sent to teams on Wednesday arrived a day after James tore his Achilles tendon while working out away from Broncos facilities. Broncos players were among those from more than two-thirds of the league's team who issued formal statements endorsed by the NFLPA announcing that players would not attend voluntary workouts. 

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While some players with workout bonuses attached to their contracts did show up for voluntary workouts, James was not one of them. He was due to make a guaranteed $10 million this season with the Broncos. But a clause in the collective bargaining agreement allows teams to void those guarantees if a player suffers a "non-football injury."

Wednesday's memo that mentioned James by name and his $10 million salary confirmed that the NFL considers his Achilles tear a "non-football injury." In short, the Broncos aren't obligated to pay him. It doesn't matter if James was working while preparing for the season. 

"Injuries sustained while a player is working out 'on his own' in a location other than an NFL facility are considered 'Non-Football Injuries' and are outside the scope of a typical skill, injury and cap guarantee," the memo read. "Such injuries are also not covered by the protections found in paragraph 9 of the NFL Player Contract, meaning that clubs have no contractual obligation to provide salary continuation during the year the injury was sustained."

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The Broncos could still choose to pay James as a goodwill gesture. But the decision is completely up to them. They haven't indicated what they plan to do. Thursday's letter from the NFLPA made a suggestion:

"Clubs who care about their players have often in the past honored a player’s contract for simply working out to stay in shape."

Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James takes part in drills during the NFL football team's veterans minicamp Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Ja'Wuan James doesn't know if the Broncos plan to pay his $10 million salary this season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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