Team sources told ESPN that James suffered a torn Achilles tendon in a workout away from the Broncos’ facility. The injury is considered season-ending, and James will have surgery to repair it.
Given James’ injury occurred when he was not at the team’s facility it could be classified as a “non-football injury” or NFI, and the Broncos would not be obligated to pay James his $9.85 million base salary.
James has played 63 snaps for the Broncos over three games combined — all in 2019 — since he signed a four-year, $51 million deal with Denver in March of that year. James said late in the 2019 season he had suffered a torn meniscus as well as a torn MCL in separate games that season.
James opted out of the 2020 season due to health concerns with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic. In five seasons with the Miami Dolphins James battled a variety of injuries and did not start more than eight games in consecutive seasons.
He started 16 games as a rookie in 2014 before starting seven in 2015; started 16 games in 2016 before starting eight in 2017; and started 15 games in 2018 before he started the three for the Broncos in 2019.
James’ injury will force the Broncos to look at the market given they had planned on James starting at right tackle this season. James had worked out at the Broncos facility on several occasions this offseason as both general manager George Paton and Vic Fangio had praised his work in recent weeks.
Days before the draft Paton was asked about James’ progress and said: “He’s been here, and he’s been working out. He looks great and the expectation is he starts at right tackle and he plays well.”
That proclamation played, at least some, into the Broncos selecting Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II with the No. 9 pick of the draft as well as North Carolina running back Javonte Williams in the second round (35th overall) when some of the draft’s top tackles were still on the board.
The ranks of tackles who remain unsigned in free agency had grown thin with several players over 30 with starting experience like 35-year-old Demar Dotson, who was not re-signed by the Broncos earlier this offseason and 33-year-old Marshall Newhouse.
Veteran tackle Marshall Gilbert, who opted out last season, announced his retirement just before the draft.
On their current roster the only other tackle to have started a game at right tackle for the Broncos is Calvin Anderson, who started two last season. Elijah Wilkinson, who started seven games at right tackle in 2020, signed with the Chicago Bears in free agency.