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Mohrmann: Clady is just the first domino to fall

Pat Bowlen’s checkbook is about to get a workout. When all is said and done, Peyton Manning could be blamed for most of it. Not that it’s entirely a bad thing. A player like Manning tends to raise the talent level of the team he plays for.

The Denver Broncos are only getting a taste of that reality in left tackle Ryan Clady. Last year, Clady decided that a five-year contract worth $50 million wasn’t enough. He wanted to take a gamble that he would play well enough in 2012 to earn a contract making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL.

And from the sound of things, that’s exactly what Clady might get. At the end of this drawn out contract negotiation, everyone should and will walk away happy. The Broncos will have locked up the anchor of their offensive line, Manning (and Brock Osweiler, if everything goes to plan) will have his blindside protected for years to come, and three guys can look forward to being next in line.

Although Manning has maybe two more years left in him, the core of the team is still young and some of the players are due contract extensions in the next two years. Depending on how the numbers add up with Clady, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller are all going to be able to leverage their way to big contracts.

Both Decker and Thomas were a part of Josh McDaniels’ second draft class and signed four- and five-year contracts, respectively. Decker’s contract will expire after the 2013 season, making him an unrestricted free agent. From 2011 to 2012, Decker nearly doubled his number of receptions, went from over 600 receiving yards to more than 1,000 and scored five more (eight to 13) touchdowns. Even in a run-heavy offense with Tim Tebow as the quarterback, Decker had a respectable year for a second-year receiver.

As he as grown more comfortable with Manning, it’s not a stretch to believe that his production will only be better in 2013, barring injury. As a top receiver on a Super Bowl contending team, Decker could easily look for a contract similar to Sidney Rice’s. In 2014, Decker could be looking at signing a $40 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.

Things could look even better for the other half of the “Salt and Pepper” duo. Although his first two years were marred by injury, Thomas has become a legitimate receiving threat in the NFL. He first gained attention during the Wild Card Playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he took a Tebow pass in overtime and outran the entire Pittsburgh defense to help Denver advance.

When the Broncos signed Manning, things only got better for DT. His 1,400-yard receiving season in 2012 was better than any year that Brandon Marshall put together while in a Broncos uniform.

Oddly enough, Thomas is only scheduled to make $836,500 this season, then more than $3 million before he becomes a free agent in 2015. If Manning sticks around for 2014 and Thomas puts together two more seasons with numbers comparable to last year, he could hold the Broncos hostage for a big payday. While Thomas wouldn’t quite pull in a Calvin Johnson-like contract, he could still hold out for a $50 million deal, with half of it guaranteed.

But Decker and Thomas combined don’t make up the problem the Broncos will face when it’s time to extend Von Miller’s contract. After only two seasons, Miller is the cornerstone of the Broncos defense and possibly the best overall player on the team. There is little doubt that Miller will be worth as much, if not more, to the Broncos than Patrick Willis is to the San Francisco 49ers.

Under his current contract, Miller will make a combined $5.5 million during the next two years. In 2015, that number should drastically increase and Miller could potentially become the highest-paid linebacker in the league. That honor is currently held by Willis, who received a $50 million contract with more than $20 million fully guaranteed. If Clady becomes the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL this week, there is no way Miller’s handlers wouldn’t stop until he was possibly the highest grossing defensive player in the league.

The turbulent times the Broncos faced in 2009 and 2010 are now coming into play with the current regime’s economic planning. The 2010 draft is one of the best the Broncos have had in a long time. The end result is going to be a wide receiver tandem that is among the highest paid in the league. The blunders of the 2010 season allowed Miller to fall right into the Broncos’ lap and he will eventually have to be paid like the mega-star he is quickly becoming.

It’s important for the Broncos to finish their negotiations with Clady and move on to the 2013 season. Without Clady, the Super Bowl odds are significantly reduced in Denver.

But when it comes to maintaining the current core of the Broncos, Clady is only the first of many dominoes that are soon to fall. Pat Bowlen’s checkbook is about to get a workout.


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