By Ronald Toothe
Earlier today, Adam Schefter reported that the Ravens have signed former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James to a two-year deal, worth up to $9 million dollars. While initially that number may seem a bit eye popping, this is a deal laden with incentives (as Ian Rapoport noted on the Pat Mcafee Show moments later). At it’s base, this deal looks much more like a two-year $3.5 million dollar payout.
James made headlines earlier this off-season after rupturing his Achilles away from the Broncos team facility. As a result, the team decided to release him and void his guarantees. While not an ideal ending in Denver, ultimately this move may benefit James by landing in Baltimore.
What does this mean for Ravens going forward?
The Ravens signing of James indicates that the offensive line is priority number one for Eric Decosta and company. James likely won’t see the field this year but could be a key cog going forward for that group. When healthy, James is one of the more talented tackles in the league. Even after signing Alejandro Villanueva earlier this off-season, tackle depth is one place where the Ravens could really use some help, now they have it.
This signing could also indicate how much the Ravens think Villanueva has left in the tank. While he still performed well for Pittsburgh over the last few seasons, the Ravens are preparing for all scenarios. Should a drop off occur at any point next season for the veteran tackle, the team now has an instant replacement to compete for his starting job in 2022.
This move also tells us one of two things about Tyre Phillips and the line depth in general. A.) He’s not the integral depth piece they thought he could be after being drafted in 2020. Or B.) Decosta is just looking to bring in as many talented players up front as possible.
After seeing what happened in Buffalo during January’s playoff loss, and the consistency issues overall following Ronnie Stanley’s injury, perhaps this move is one that says “injuries won’t be the reason we fail in the trenches”. The Ravens’ Super Bowl window is now, James helps assure one injury won’t derail an entire season for 2022 and potentially beyond.
There’s always a catch
On paper, this is a solid addition for the Ravens in the league’s most dynamic rushing offense. With almost every signing though, comes a risk factor. Ja’Wuan James has only played a full season twice in his career, with the last instance coming in 2016. He also played 15 games in 2018 but followed it up with a knee injury that cost him all but three games the following year.
In 2020, James opted out of the NFL season due to Covid concerns, and then came to the aforementioned Achilles tear this off-season. His last consistent stretch of playing football was almost three years ago, and every injury he’s dealt with recently has been a lower-body injury. James also missed half of 2017 with a hamstring injury.
These types of injuries are difficult for offensive linemen. Larger frames mean more strain on those body parts. The fact that they’re all different injuries causes a bit more concern as well. It’s more than appropriate to wonder what lower-body injury could be next for James.
Overall, and as always, only time will tell whether this was a smart move by the Ravens’ front office. Luckily, the financial risk involved is almost pennies on the dollar, so it’s a low risk-high reward.
If Ja’Wuan James can stay healthy following his rehab, his career could be revitalized as a Raven. If not, well, no harm no foul.