Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James signed a four-year contract extension worth $76.4 million on Wednesday morning, according to multiple reports. The Haines City, Florida native will receive a record amount of $29 million during the first year of the contract. James will earn approximately $19.133 million annually, which makes him the highest-paid safety in NFL history. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has wisely locked up another one of his superstar defenders for the foreseeable future.
James was previously being held out of practice while “holding in” until his contract situation was resolved. It meant James was physically present at practice but wasn’t an active participant, being limited to team walkthroughs and individual agility drills. It always indicated the Chargers and James expected to reach an agreement prior to September marking its arrival. The deal is now officially done and James will resume practicing in full capacity.
James was previously scheduled to enter the fifth and final year of his rookie contract following the Chargers’ decision to execute his fifth-year player option last summer. James was set to earn a fully-guaranteed $9.052 million in 2022, via Spotrac. It meant he was severely underpaid while lacking the desired long-term security. It added a sense of urgency to contract negotiations.
James is the latest safety to sign a lucrative contract this summer, following in the footsteps of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marcus Williams, to name a few. The notable difference is James bested all of their contracts by resetting the safety market. James was always happy to remain in Los Angeles and their front-office brass consistently signaled their intentions to reach an agreement with his representation. The contract represents a win-win for all parties involved.
With this contract, the Chargers are investing in the continued form and health James showcased throughout the 2021 campaign. James was outstanding, recording career-highs in total tackles (118) while also accumulating seven tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, five pass breakups, three interceptions, three fumbles forced, and two sacks. James earned his second Pro Bowl and First-team All-Pro nods for his efforts. Perhaps more importantly, James started 15 regular-season contests after foot and ACL injuries limited him to just five appearances across 2019 and 2020. James’ injury history adds a buyer beware label to this contract extension, but 2021 indicated James has gotten past those ailments.
James is a perfect match for Chargers head coach Brandon Staley’s versatile defensive scheme. James can be utilized at either safety position on any given down. Staley doesn’t shy away from using James at cornerback on occasion. James can line up at the infamous “STAR” and “MONEY” positions as well. With 5.5 career sacks, James is an excellent blitzer that can apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He can play single-high, in split-safety looks, man-to-man coverage, and zone coverage. There’s literally nothing James can’t do for Staley’s defense.
He’s so much more than a safety, which attaches terrific value to his usage. Staley recently referred to James as the “heartbeat and signal-caller” of his defense. It’s the highest praise imaginable. James’ free-roaming abilities make the Chargers’ defense tick, limiting their opponents offensively.
Perhaps the most interesting nugget regarding James’ new contract is that he becomes the Chargers’ fourth defensive player to earn $15 million or more annually, joining Joey Bosa, J.C. Jackson, and Khalil Mack. All four players are signed for at least the next three seasons (through 2024). No competing NFL team rosters as many high-priced defenders as the Chargers do. It’s one of many benefits of possessing a franchise quarterback like Justin Herbert on an affordable rookie contract. Herbert isn’t due to receive his inevitable record-setting extension until next offseason at the earliest. Telesco understands now’s the time to be aggressive. He’s acting accordingly.
The Chargers are entering a season with massive expectations on the weight of their shoulders. Possessing an MVP candidate at quarterback, coupled with Telesco’s notable offseason additions, has raised the bar for the Chargers. Ensuring James remains a Charger increases their chances of achieving their lofty goals, both this year and moving forward.
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