Safety first for rehabbing Derwin James but not for a contract

The Chargers paused their football business Wednesday with the conclusion of their two-day mandatory mini-camp.

However, football business will continue for the team with the possibility of a contact extension this summer due to safety concerns. Durwin James Jr.

Beginning his fifth season, James will make just over $9 million in the option year of his rookie deal. His representatives and the Chargers are believed to have entered into negotiations.

James, who turns 26 in early August, comes off a season that saw him make his second Pro Bowl and firmly establish himself as a key figure in head coach Brandon Staley’s defense.

He’s the Chargers’ signal caller and a widely recognized leader – both physically and emotionally.

James possesses the versatility to play the entire field, from deep set-ups to passing rushers off the edge—and just about everything in between.

“We feel like he’s playing where he’s playing…he’s in the middle of defense,” Staley said last month. “He never leaves the field. We think that’s important. We think that can be an advantage.”

The Chargers are now off before reuniting in late July for the start of training camp in Costa Mesa.

The collateral renewal market reset Wednesday as Pittsburgh agreed a deal with Minkah Fitzpatrick that extended his rookie contract by four years and up to $73.6 million — with $36 million guaranteed.

The annual average of $18.4 million is the highest in league history, beating Seattle’s Jamal Adams’ $17.5 million mark.

In the 2018 draft, Miami selected Fitzpatrick 11th overall, six spots before the Chargers selected James. The Dolphins traded Fitzpatrick to the Steelers in September 2019.

Chargers Free safety Derwin James (3) warms up during drills in training.

Chargers free safety Derwin James (3) warms up before practice in Costa Mesa. Because of his shoulder rehabilitation, he has not participated in competitive drills, but completed most of the drills.

(Kyusung Gong/Associated Press)

Before Fitzpatrick agreed to his extension, he was expected to earn $10.6 million from the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.

The only blow to the early part of James’ NFL career was health. A foot injury limited him to five games in 2019 and a knee injury cost him all of 2020. He suffered the setbacks in consecutive Augusts.

James underwent shoulder surgery after the 2021 season but was able to stay on the field and provide production despite early injuries.

He totaled 118 tackles, finishing third in the league among defenders. Fitzpatrick was first at 124. James was one of only five NFL players to have at least 100 tackles, multiple interceptions and forced fumbles, and a sack.

Publicly, he remained focused on football this off-season, repeatedly dismissing questions about a possible extension. Because of his shoulder, the Chargers have limited his action during offseason practice.

“Whenever that takes care of itself, it takes care of itself,” James said in May. “My job right now is just to help people [veteran edge rusher] Khalil Mack and [rookie safety] JT Woods comes up to speed.”

James’ importance to the Chargers is evident even in the way the team has remodeled its defense in recent months, sweeping changes aimed at further exploiting James’ rich abilities.

Among other things, they used their second pick in the draft to win Woods in the third round. Staley later explained that Wood’s potential to play deep should help free James.

“We’ve surrounded him with a lot more depth and talent so all of his talents will shine even brighter than last season…” Staley said. “Derwin, all he has to do is keep doing what he always does because he’s one of the special players in the league.”

An extension for James would continue the Chargers’ recent trend of re-signing their biggest names.

In July 2020, they signed edge rusher Joey Bosa to a five-year, $135 million deal that included a $102 million guaranteed salary.

Six weeks later, the Chargers and wide receiver Keenan Allen agreed to a four-year extension worth up to $80 million, of which $50 million was guaranteed.

In March, they signed wide receiver Mike Williams to a three-year deal worth up to $60 million with $40 million in guarantees.

Notable Sightings: When asked Wednesday which players have excelled this spring, Staley mentioned wide receiver Jalen Guyton and safety Nasir Adderley.

For the past two days, Guyton has been busy as a punt coverage shooter – a new assignment for him – the Chargers are hoping to continue to capitalize on his speed while increasing his value.

“That’s going to be a big factor in him staying in the league for a long time and hopefully making his mark in this league,” Staley said. “Jalen comes with a good attitude and I’m looking forward to seeing him at the training camp.”

Staley spoke about Adderley’s showing up, with James being suspended from competitive practice as a precautionary measure due to his shoulder surgery.

Still looking for #2: After spending most of offseason training near his Las Vegas home, running back Austin Ekeler joined his teammates for mandatory mini-camp.

Ekeler is entering his sixth year and has had a season in which he has set a career-high 276 touches.

He spoke repeatedly in 2021 about the importance of the Chargers having a second running back to lighten his workload. He spoke about it again on Wednesday.

“I’m currently in first place,” said Ekeler. “I want these guys to challenge me. Like, ‘Let’s go. bring it Come on. Come and earn some reps.’ That’s how I want it.”

The Chargers drafted Isaiah Spiller from Texas A&M in the fourth round in April to join two other recent picks — Larry Rountree III (round six, 2021) and Joshua Kelley (round four, 2020) — in the battle for second place. Safety first for rehabbing Derwin James but not for a contract

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