The Los Angeles Chargers have nailed many of their high draft picks over the last few seasons, with Derwin James standing out as one of their best selections on the defensive side of the ball. When healthy, James has proven to be an absolute game-changer with a unique set of skills.
James played his second fully healthy season, and he was named a Pro Bowl defensive back for the second time. Not bad for someone who was thought to have less than perfect coverage skills coming out of college. The time has come for James to finally cash in.
Tom Telesco can't overthink this. James is a unique physical talent with an enviable combination of strength and speed. Whenever he's been on the field, LA has reaped the benefits of one of the game's best individual defenders. The time is coming for James to be compensated as such.
Pro Football Focus projected James to be handed a four-year, $75 million contract with around $40 million in guaranteed money. That $18.75 million per year AAV would be the highest for a safety in NFL history, surpassing what Jamal Adams got from Seattle and what Minkah Fitzpatrick received from Pittsburgh.
The Los Angeles Chargers will need to pay Derwin James.
The only area in which LA can point to as evidence not to pay him is his injury history, as he played just five games in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined. In the remaining two seasons, James has recorded 5.5 sacks, over 220 tackles, and five interceptions. He's integral to Brandon Staley's defense.
Despite his reputation as a defensive wunderkind from his time with the Rams, Staley's unit often let Justin Herbert down. Adding JC Jackson and Khalil Mack showed that Telesco is willing to splash the cash in order to quickly improve the team.
As impactful as all of those players are, it might not be too hyperbolic to suggest that James is more important to what Los Angeles wants to do defensively. In a league getting more pass-happy by the year, having a defensive back who can cover ground and lay some thunderous hits on ball carriers is more important than ever.
James is in such rarified territory as a defensive back that his injuries may not impact his contract talks. The Chargers know what he is at this point in his career, and his propensity for getting some bumps and bruises should not prevent LA from giving him a bag sooner rather than later.