We’re less than a week from the start of the 2018 league year, and with it one of the most exciting times of the offseason: free agency. But that doesn’t mean teams are sitting around doing nothing. The Broncos have already made one significant trade, shipping star cornerback Aqib Talib to the Rams in exchange for a 5th rounder, the 160th overall pick. Could more moves be on the way?
The Talib trade brings the Broncos up to around $36M in cap space, which is more than enough to cover Kirk Cousins’ 2018 cap hit if the team lands him next week. And a few other players like C.J. Anderson are likely to be moved, clearing even more cap space.
What will the Broncos do with that wiggle room? They might sit tight and just wait to see how things play out with Cousins. Or John Elway might make a move to secure the team’s future at some position that’s currently a weak spot. There are a couple of candidates for that including inside linebacker, cornerback, left guard, right tackle, tight end, running back, etc.
Of all those options, the Broncos may be best served by making a move to secure a right tackle. The free agent market at the position, as its currently anticipated to look, is downright appalling. There are few legitimate options available there, and none that don’t come with significant red flags. The draft class is a bit better at the position, but lacks sure bets. Any rookie RT worthy of starting will likely be gone in the first fifty picks or so, and there are several other directions the Broncos might like to go with those selections.
So why not take care of things ahead of time? The Miami Dolphins are strapped for cap space, and despite the anticipated cuts of linebacker Lawrence Timmons and former Broncos TE Julius Thomas, they may still need to manufacture some additional cap space. That’s where Ja’Wuan James steps into the picture.
James, a 2014 first round pick, is entering his fifth season in the NFL. The Dolphins picked up his fifth year option, but the $9.34M price tag is not guaranteed and would make him the 3rd highest paid RT in the NFL and the 15th highest overall. That may leave them with a bit of a quandary, considering their cap situation. James is a quality tackle, but that’s a bit steep. Usually that would be mitigated by signing the player to an extension. But in this case it’s looking unlikely, and time is running out.
James is arguably worth the 15th highest salary among tackles, having graded out as the 17th best tackle in the NFL in 2017, with an overall grade of 80.0. That’s better than any Broncos tackle from last season and far, far better than any Broncos RT in recent times. And he’s pretty consistent, having earned grades of 79.3 and 75.1 in 2016 and 2015 respectively. That’s a level of performance that the Broncos would benefit greatly from after the rather pathetic showings they’ve endured with Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson. And did I mention that despite four years of experience he’s just 25?
On the other hand, James has been plagued by some bad injury luck. Hamstring issues stole half of his 2017 season, and his 2015 season was also cut short. He hasn’t quite lived up to his original first round billing, and the injury issues are reason for some concern.
But despite that, a trade for James is a risk worth taking. Should he remain healthy, he’d be the best right tackle Denver has had in quite some time. And frankly, he could hardly be worse than what we’ve had. The Dolphins may face the choice between getting nothing for him after releasing him or at least getting something for him via trade. It’d be worth it for the Broncos to send a fifth round pick (maybe that one we just got for Talib) in exchange for him, or a fourth rounder if that’s what it takes.
If the Broncos do trade for James,they’d want to extend him quickly. Given his level of performance and his injury risks, I think it would be pretty reasonable for the team to aim for a three year deal averaging somewhere between $6M and $8M per year. That’s low enough to be affordable for the Broncos, high enough to be a decent salary for a veteran tackle, and short enough that the team is protected and that he could secure a larger, longer deal while still in his prime if he does well enough.
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