Chargers’ Derwin James won’t practice at camp until he receives contract extension

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. cradles the football during practice.
Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. will not practice at training camp until he has a contract extension. There is one year left on his current deal.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Chargers reopened for business Wednesday in Costa Mesa, though safety Derwin James Jr. sat out for business reasons.

The 2021 Pro Bowl selection won’t practice during training camp until his contract situation is settled, coach Brandon Staley said.

James was on the field with his teammates but did not participate in drills.


He is eligible for an extension, and Staley expressed optimism that a deal would be done soon.

“I think there’s full respect on both sides,” Staley said. “They know how much we love Derwin. Derwin knows how much we love him. We’re just working through that process right now. We’re gonna let it take shape. When it does, he’ll be out there.”

Chargers standout Derwin James Jr. is one of the NFL’s top safeties, following through on a strong football legacy established by his father in Florida.

A first-round pick in 2018, James is set to make a little more than $9 million in the fifth year of his rookie contract.

Just one day into camp, there is little reason to suspect James and the Chargers won’t come to an agreement. Until it happens, however, there will be uncertainty surrounding the team.

The extension market for safeties was reset in mid-June when Pittsburgh agreed to terms with Minkah Fitzpatrick on a deal that added four years and up to $73.6 million — with $36 million guaranteed — to his rookie deal.

The $18.4-million annual average is the highest in NFL history at the position, eclipsing the $17.5-million mark of Seattle’s Jamal Adams.

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

The Chargers’ offense was impressive last season, but the defense often fell short and there was no playoff spot. Training camp should answer questions about whether they made right upgrades.

A potential issue in the James negotiations could be how the Chargers employ the versatile defender. James lines up all over the field, expanding his reach beyond that of a traditional safety.

James also calls the signals in the huddle, one of the few NFL defensive backs to do so.

Because he plays such a significant role, James and his representatives could be looking for compensation that reflects his status as more than just a typical standout safety.

The only knock on the early part of James’ career involves 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 had left shoulder surgery after the 2021 season but was able to remain on the field and provide production despite getting hurt early in the campaign.

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He was limited during offseason activities while rehabilitating, but Staley said James should be a full-go health-wise once his contract situation is cleared up.

James totaled 118 tackles last season, finishing third leaguewide among defensive backs. (Fitzpatrick was first with 124.) He was one of only five NFL players to have at least 100 tackles, multiple interceptions, forced fumbles and a sack.

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

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

Years before standout NFL cornerback J.C. Jackson signed with the Chargers, his life in a small Florida town was nearly derailed by armed robbery charges.

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

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

Eyes on right tackle

The largest position battle entering camp is at right tackle, where Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III split time with the first-teamers on Day 1.

Asked what ultimately will separate the two, Staley said “consistency in performance, being a complete tackle, run game, pass game.”

Norton, who joined the Chargers as a free agent in 2020, started 15 games at the position last season. The Chargers have more time and resources invested in Pipkins, who was a third-round pick in 2019. He has started 10 games over the last three seasons.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley talks with tackles Storm Norton (74),  Trey Pipkins III (79) and Rashawn Slater (70).
Chargers coach Brandon Staley talks with offensive tackles Storm Norton (74), Trey Pipkins III (79) and Rashawn Slater (70). Norton and Pipkins are competing for the starting right tackle spot.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Staley suggested both will play during the preseason, something the Chargers aren’t expected to do with most of their starters.

The rest of the offensive line is set, including rookie Zion Johnson at right guard. Staley said how well Norton or Pipkins fits with the group also will be part of the evaluation.

“It’s not just about them,” Staley said. “It’s how they play with the other four guys that are on their offensive line.”

Kenneth Murray waits

Staley offered no exact time for the return of linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr., who is coming off April ankle surgery. He did say he expects Murray to be available before camp ends.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on it,” Staley said. “I just think that he will be practicing at some point in the next four to six weeks.”

Practice observations

  • Quarterback Justin Herbert looked solid, including crisp completions to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams during seven-on-seven drills.
  • Cornerback J.C. Jackson made an immediate impact in his first practice, breaking up a Herbert pass on the opening play of 11-on-11.
  • With James out, Alohi Gilman replaced him with the starters.
  • Rookie Deane Leonard had a pass breakup against Jalen Guyton during second-team 11-on-11.
  • The highlight play of the day came when defensive lineman Joe Gaziano tipped a screen pass thrown by Easton Stick, secured the interception and ran it back for a touchdown. Gaziano capped the moment with a massive spike.