ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos have gone through right tackles like Spinal Tap has drummers. Ja'Wuan James was supposed to fix the problem. However, he has played 63 snaps this season after signing a four-year, $51 million contract with $32 million guaranteed. Speaking at length for the first time Tuesday, James cleared the air about his left knee injury, explaining he has dealt with a torn MCL, as first reported by Denver7 weeks ago, and meniscus damage.
Limited to cameos over three games — the Raiders, the Colts and Texans — James drew criticism from fans after Broncos coach Vic Fangio said a month ago that the offensive lineman was cleared to play physically, but was working through mental and emotional hurdles. Tuesday, James detailed what caused his absence. He tore his MCL in the season opener (losing his footing on the dirt saved him from more serious damage) and partially tore his meniscus against the Colts along with scar tissue in his MCL. When he returned against Houston three weeks ago, the knee continued to “buckle.”
"It is part of football. Injuries, they suck when they happen. Like I have said, I have played this game a long time, and I have played injured before but I have never experienced the buckling and giving out of the knee because of the ligament. That was the tough part for me. Hopefully we get this all behind us and go out there and win some games,” James said. “The meniscus doesn't look like it would need surgery with time to heal. Same with the MCL. But I am going to get checkups and MRIs about a month after the season to make sure it's healing properly.”
When I asked if he felt he and the team were on the same page regarding the knee, James responded, "Yes sir. I do." James talked with Fangio and general manager John Elway two weeks ago as the sides tried to gain a better understanding of what was keeping James off the field.
The reality is the Broncos could use James if healthy. When he played against the Texans for a half, the line improved, especially in pass blocking. At halftime of that game, the knee wasn't responding, and James felt like he couldn't trust it. He told line coach Mike Munchak it "was giving out," and was shut down, marking his last appearance of the season.
Part of the issue with James is fitting into the changing culture under Fangio. James is hurt, so complaints can be viewed as unfair. However, in the NFL, playing with issues can define a team, and that shift can be seen with this year's Broncos as Alexander Johnson (knee), Von Miller (knee), Dalton Risner (ankle), among others, have continued to start.
It pained James not to play, he explained. He remains optimistic he can heal and move forward.
"I stay off social media so I don't see (the backlash). And not even from a money standpoint (does he feel badly). I feel badly because I wanted to come here and make an impact here with this team. And it's hard because I am more of a person who leads by example than be a rah-rah guy," James said. "And I feel like I haven't gotten a chance since camp to show my play and what I can do. I just want to put it behind me and not worry about knee and have a clear mind about it. I want to get it 100 percent and be ready for OTAs and next season."
Broncos safety Justin Simmons said he will appeal a $56,156 fine for his hit on the Chiefs' Travis Kelce. He was penalized, which Fangio felt was incorrect. "I think it’s fair to say that fine was a little ridiculous. I am not going to be rude, but I am going to genuinely ask, ‘What am I supposed to do?'" ... I asked Dalton Risner if quarterback Drew Lock is the The Guy moving forward. "I am going to support whoever is in there. But he's done a hell of a job and has shown everybody why he should have been drafted in the first round. I think he has a little chip on his shoulder or the whole stack of Pringles chips, as Drew says. I definitely think he's the guy. But who am I? I am just an offensive lineman who is going to block and do his job."