Whenever an NFL player fights over a contract with his team, obviously everyone picks a side.
The player, his agents and his family choose a side.
The team, including management, chooses the other side.
And, of course, fans invariably pick a side.
So Tuesday was kind of interesting in Los Angeles because Chargers safety Derwin James, leading a contract sit-in, missed his 14th straight practice in training camp as his team continued to try to get a Management’s contract extension, which is the other side.
All this while Brandon Staley, who is part of the management as the team’s head coach, was in front of reporters giving James’ representation – the other side – ammunition in these negotiations.
More on that in a moment.
First of all, you should know that James is in this training camp because he wants a contract extension that would make him the highest paid safety in the league.
He’s looking for a deal that would top the $72,988,000 deal Minkah Fitzpatrick recently signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fitzpatrick was drafted No. 11 overall in the 2018 draft and James went No. 17 to the Chargers in the same draft.
And now James wants a deal that tops the $36 million total guaranteed amount Fitzpatrick got and the league-high (for a security) average of $18,247,000 a year.
The Chargers obviously haven’t been able to offer James that money yet. And they might have reasons for that, one of which is that James has had durability issues throughout his career.
A foot injury limited him to five games in 2019 and a knee injury forced him to miss the entire 2020 season.
So these are concerns management obviously needs to raise in a contract negotiation to protect the team from overpaying a hitherto injury-prone player, no matter how healthy he is.
Except Staley has just extinguished any sustainability issues the club might stoke in the negotiations.
“I’m not worried about Derwin,” Staley said when asked how James’ injury history factored into contract negotiations. “Derwin has given us no reason to worry because of the way he behaves on a daily basis.
“We see him every day. It would be one thing if he wasn’t here, but we see him every day. He’s in the best shape of his life. It’s the first time in a long time that he’s is having a full offseason with nothing stopping him from training. He feels good, so that gives us a lot of confidence.
It is the sound of the value of security increasing.
And Staley wasn’t done. James wants to be paid as the NFL’s top safety and that’s one thing. But Staley sees it as something much bigger.
“I don’t consider Derwin a safety,” Staley said. “I consider Derwin an impact player. I think the reason why, if you just considered him a security, it wouldn’t do Derwin justice. For me, I consider him a defensive back.
“When I see him I’m like, ‘He’s a defensive back’, because he can play anywhere; he can play any safety point, he can play in the corner, he can play Star or Money, he can rush the quarterback and make an impact as a blitzer, he can make an impact in man-to-man coverage, then he can make an impact in zone defense, whether he’s playing low or high.
So James can now make the bargaining point to management, he is actually more valuable than a security and management can’t argue because management just said so.
And there were even more.
“He’s our signalman and the heart of our defense,” Staley said. “If you just thought of him as a safety playing safety, you wouldn’t look at him the same way you do as a defensive back. I think he has the rare combination of all of those factors, plus the intangibles of impact in defense and in the team with every snap of his fingers, from an intangible perspective.
It’s like Staley has joined James’ negotiating team.
The coach even gave James public cover for continuing to stick around until he got a new contract or the regular season started, whichever came first.
Because Staley isn’t worried about whether James will be fit and ready for the season without training.
“I’m not worried about Derwin James because no one is prouder than him of his performance and his ability to be fit, mentally and physically, to do the job at the highest level,” Staley said. “Fortunately, I have some experience with a situation like this.
“When we traded for Khalil [Mack] in Chicago, Khalil did not have an offseason. He didn’t have a training camp. He showed up a week before the first game. Then he had the match of his life. Then he had his best season as an NFL player. If you know guys like Derwin and like Khalil, they’re going to be ready.
“Whenever that happens, Derwin will be ready. We cannot wait for this moment when it comes.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero