By Zack Kelberman
(247 SPORTS) – No move executed during NFL free agency was as poor as the Denver Broncos handing former Dolphin Ja’Wuan James a record-setting pact. This is the evidently sourced opinion of The MMQB’s Andy Benoit, who ranked the best and worst transactions from the league’s signing period — and in doing so, dropped a bomb about Denver’s newly-minted right tackle.
Fifty-one million for a fart device?
“Privately, some people close to the Dolphins waited to see who signed James with the same eager anticipation with which you wait to see who sits on the seat with the whoopie cushion,” Benoit wrote. “They believe a rude surprise awaits that GM. Turns out the GM is John Elway. He won’t hear the whoopie cushion until later down the road, but the Dolphins are already laughing. You can understand why Elway made the move; right tackles are hard to find, and playing with a bad one can significantly hinder your scheme. But the belief by some in Miami was that other teams wouldn’t know just how much energy was spent each week gameplanning ways to hide and help James. He’s not quick or nimble enough to get out in space in the screen game, and he’s prone to breakdowns (both physical and mental) in pass protection.”
As I’ve written, Denver undoubtedly overpaid for James, far and away the best RT among this year’s free-agent class. Some of this was unavoidable, as teams were throwing around wild money, ballooning James’ market value and subsequently forcing the Broncos’ hand. Some of this was also by design, however, as the club is banking on his upside, hopeful that new OL coach Mike Munchak can unlock the 26-year-old’s Pro Bowl potential.
General manager John Elway whiffed on so many tackles over the years, he appeared willing to open his pocketbook if it meant stopping the deadly cycle.
“He’s young. We really like him,” Elway said Friday. “He’s a good fit for us with what we want to do with the zone scheme and outside-zone. He’s a physical guy and he plays hard. We’re excited about him. There is no question that hopefully he solidifies—we’re planning on him solidifying that right tackle for us. We really feel good about the two young tackles that we now have (James & Garett Bolles) and what we’re doing. We’ll just continue to get better there.”
James’ struggles are noted. He surrendered five sacks in 2018 and 5.5 in 2016, and was popped for eight combined holding penalties during those campaigns. His Pro Football Focus ratings for last season aren’t strikingly flattering: 70.8 overall, 67.3 pass blocking, 69.1 run blocking.
Conversely, he’s a massive on-paper improvement on Jared Veldheer and familiar with assistant OL coach Chris Kiper from their time in Miami. Methinks Kuper would recognize a whoopie cushion when he sees one, and he’d relay that to Elway before making James the richest ever at his position.
But, hey, Benoit did a decent job letting the air out …