It seems like every day now we see a new extension with the words “league-record” tied to it, where players get extensions worth more than ever and break the league’s record at that position. The newest example of this? Derwin James’ 4-year extension that was put together this week worth an absolutely insane amount.
This deal broke 2 records actually, firstly the highest paid safety (4 years, $76.532 million) and also the highest amount ever paid to a safety in a single season (year 1 of the deal has $29 million guaranteed).
These types of deals reset the league and make it so that the next wave of great safeties gets paid even more. There are some big-name safeties becoming free agents in 2023 too, including Jessie Bates III, Jordan Poyer, Jimmie Ward, Terrell Edmunds, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and Adrian Amos.
The question you have to ask yourself as an NFL fan, a Los Angeles Chargers fan, or just as a spectator in general, is did Derwin James deserve this deal? Is he worth the most money in the league at this position? In this article, I will be breaking down both of those questions and looking into whether or not this is a deal that will age well or maybe not so much.
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Is Derwin James the best at his position currently?
This is the most simple question to ask when looking at whether or not a player should be paid the most at his position…is he the best?
The names I would put in the running with him are the likes of Kevin Byard, Jessie Bates, Justin Simmons, Marcus Williams, Tyrann Mathieu, and Jordan Poyer.
Statistically, Derwin James 100% deserves the title of best safety. In 2021, he ranked at these spots among safeties in the following categories:
- #3 in tackles
- #5 in tackles for loss
- T-13 in forced fumbles
- #3 in QB pressures
The thing people tend to look at is his “low” interception numbers, considering he had only 2 in 2021 and only 5 pass deflections. Would you like to know why? It’s because quarterbacks are smart enough to not target him as much now.
In his rookie year, Derwin James was targeted 73 times. That season he had 3 interceptions and a whopping 13 pass deflections. In 2021 he was targeted 60 times, and still had 2 interceptions with 5 pass deflections, but also gave up the lowest completion % of his career with 56.7%.
Derwin gave up a 63.7 passer rating when targeted, the lowest of his career, in 2021. He also gave up less than half of the yards after catch he did in his rookie year, only giving up 164 this season.
The difference between someone like Derwin James and a player like Kevin Byard or Marcus Williams is his ability to make an impact deep, but also in the backfield of the opposing team. He has the play style of a Tyrann Mathieu-type player, but at an even higher level, while being 26 years old.
In terms of talent, and in terms of stats, Derwin James is easily a top 3 safety right now and most definitely has a case for being the top safety in the game.
Does Derwin’s injury history lower his value as a player?
Injuries are a key component for player extensions, as if a player is phenomenal but cannot remain on the field, their value will be lower obviously.
In my opinion, Derwin James is not a consistently injured player, and it clearly has not hampered his play on the field. So far he has had 4 injuries in the NFL, a pedal foot fracture, a knee meniscus tear, a hamstring injury, and a labrum issue at the end of last year.
Wanna know how many games he’s missed so far? 29. He has played in 36 of a possible 65 games so far in his career.
He has played nearly 2 full seasons, with 16 of 16 games in 2018 and 15 of 17 in 2021, as well as 5 more starts in 2019. So, has he suffered injuries that have held him off the field partially? Absolutely.
The thing you need to consider with this is what is the long-term impact of the injuries, have they ruined his career? The simple answer is they have not, as 2021 clearly demonstrated. He has not had anything along the lines of an Achilles or ACL/MCL tear to date, only medium-level injuries, with the worst being a meniscus tear in college.
If his injuries were clearly dropping his level of play then it would be another debate, however, with his play still remaining at an extremely high level, it should only impact his pay at a very low amount.
Does he have significant importance to his team?
Yes. yes, he does. The primary reason why the Chargers had a middle-of-the-road secondary in 2021 was due in part to Derwin and Asante Samuel Jr.
A 26-year-old safety who has played near the top of the league at his position for 2 full seasons is extremely important to a team trying to contend, which we know they are trying to do with additions like Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson on defense.
As much as people may think the position itself is not worth this type of money, I am of the belief that if you have a player bringing significant talent to your team, you do everything to retain him, including making him the highest paid at the position.
He is also a large part of why the Chargers fanbase is still sticking around. Even after the move out of San Diego, they needed a face of the team to try and draw in fans, and that initially was Derwin, the high-flying rookie safety who took the league by storm. He is the anchor in that secondary without a doubt, and one of two on the defense the past few years with Joey Bosa.
Derwin James has value in terms of the talent definition, but also for reasons to keep a fanbase around. Having someone to root for on your team who could be the best at their position will always draw in fans, regardless of how small or large the market may be.