Late in an unremarkable press availability Wednesday, someone asked Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James his feelings about the team picking up his fifth-year option for 2018.
“I definitely appreciate it,” James said. “I love it down here. Like I say all the time, I love being with this team, these teammates, this new staff, everybody. It’s good to know that I’m secure in the aspect of being here.”
And the sentiment about loving the Dolphins and coaches and teammates is good. But, with all respect to James, he should not feel any security “about being here.”
The fact of the matter is the Dolphins made a business decision to protect their business interests when they picked up a fifth-year option on him in May. That option, worth $9.341 million, means James will not be a free agent in 2018 ...
...But only if the Dolphins decide not to cut him to get out from under the money owed in the option year.
So the truth is Ja’Wuan James is going to have to earn sticking around for 2018.
The truth is 2017 is a prove-it season for Ja’Wuan James.
Shocked? Don’t be.
James had what the team believes was a frustratingly unspectacular season last year. He was benched at the end of one game and there were internal conversations about benching him at other times early in the season. Later in the season he was wildly inconsistent. And the most frustrating thing for coaches was that the inconsistency came from a player they believe has the all tools to be pretty good.
Despite all this, James got a pass and not only remains on the team this year but got rewarded with that fifth-year option.
That option is guaranteed for injury. So if James suffers an injury so significant that he cannot be cut before the first day of the 2018 league year, he gets his $9 mill. If James plays great, he’ll not only get his money but possibly get a contract extension.
But if James delivers another flop of a year like he did last year, the Dolphins can cut the lineman before the first day of the ‘18 league year and walk away without having to pay him even one penny of that $9 million.
So James has to play well this year to avoid being something of a salary cap casualty -- a player that can be cut and give the team a $9 million cap savings in the move.
(A lot of you are now saying, why would the Dolphins cut a starter? Because starters who don’t play up to their salaries get cut all the time in the NFL. And once you’re making $9 million, you have to play like $9 million. Otherwise the team can opt to sign someone better, even if it’s for more money, and feel like it’s getting better value. Or the team can draft someone and enjoy a sizable cap savings because that rookie isn’t going to cost $9 million.)
Do you understand now why “secure” is something James shouldn’t think applies to him?
Of course, James can do things to improve his security and make the Dolphins want to pay him as if he’s among the NFL’s best right tackles.
He can improve his technique and become consistent with it. He can stop freelancing, which is something he seemed to do a lot last year to the detriment of the entire offensive line. In short, he can play better.
“I’m working to be the best, to be the best right tackle on the field every Sunday,” James said. “That’s how I’m working right now and thinking. I’ll look up at the end of the season and see where I’m at, but right now, I just got my head down working.”
That’s good. Because at the end of this coming season, we’ll be able to know if James has that 2018 security he thinks he has now.
But doesn’t really have.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero