Armando Salguero

Ja’Wuan James’ future uncertain as Dolphins offensive line deals with instability

Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James has an uncertain future with the NFL team.
Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James has an uncertain future with the NFL team.

Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James’ future with the team is in serious question both short-term and long-term.

The team’s starting right tackle will miss Monday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers because he has what is being called a hamstring injury that is requiring he seek multiple opinions on how to manage its seriousness. And so based on what those medical opinions are, James might return to the field later this year, or be forced to shut it down the rest of the season and go on injured reserve.

“We’re still going through the process with him,” coach Adam Gase said Thursday. “We’ll know more hopefully by the end of the week.”

Asked if the issue has long-term ramifications that could mean James doesn’t play again this year, Gase left that door open.

“There’s a possibility,” the coach said. “We’re meeting with doctors. He’s getting some second opinions and things like that to make sure whatever we decide to do this year — long-term or short-term — we’ll figure that out.”

[Update: The Dolphins placed James on injured reserve Saturday so he is finished playing in 2017.]

With James done for the season, the Dolphins will make a decision on his status beyond this season based on what he’s already shown. And the fact is James has proven himself to be good at times. And not so good other times.

“I think Ja’Wuan’s had some really good games,” Gase said. “And then he’s had games I think he would say he wishes he would have played a little better. I think that’s been the story of the first half of our season. It’s been probably inconsistent across the board — everybody on offense. [Center Mike] Pouncey is the only one I can say every game I’m seeing a lot of the same things that are good.”

Has James been better than last year?

“I think he’s had some games that were head and shoulders better than any games he had last year,” Gase added. “There’s probably like three games he had that were really, really outstanding.”

The problem is the Dolphins have played eight games. So that means there have been five games James has not met the standard he himself set in his good games.

And this is why that matters: James is locked in for next year with the Dolphins because they exercised a fifth-year option that guarantees him just under $9 million and protects him for injury.

But the Dolphins have the right to rescind that option before the start of the 2018 league year and that would make James an unrestricted free agent.

Obviously the team can try to negotiate a long-term deal with James that would cost less than a one-year $9 million salary cap hit but it’s unlikely James would want to take less than the $9 million per year he’s already scheduled to get.

If the Dolphins do not believe an inconsistent right tackle is worth $9 million per season, they could go a different direction. That obviously would add yet another offseason need for an offense that is set for a significant remake in 2018.

The James issue is one of several the Dolphins are managing along their offensive line.

But first things first: Who replaces James?

“That’s what we have to figure out,” Gase said. “We have some thoughts and ideas of how we want to go about this. We just want to get out to practice and move the pieces around and figure out the best five.”

The options are limited. The team can move Jesse Davis to right tackle because he’s worked at both guard and tackle throughout the season.

The team can insert backup Sam Young, who played in reserve against Oakland on Sunday night.

Or, if the team wants to get really crazy, the team can move right guard Jermon Bushrod from right guard to right tackle. That is the most extreme move possible.

The most likely move is simply shifting Davis from the starting left guard spot to right tackle because Ted Larsen, who has not played this season while on injured reserve, is close to being ready to return to the lineup.

Larsen practiced last week and on Thursday was set to participate in his first padded practice since he tore his right biceps muscle in August.

“We’ll find out today,” Gase said. “Today will be a good step for us because he’ll be able to practice the entire practice or at least go into team periods where last week that Wednesday we weren’t able to do that.”

Gase called Larsen “a presence on the offensive side.”

“I felt like he was doing a good job when he had a setback and got injured,” Gase said. “Today is going to be a big day to figure out the best five guys.”

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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