Acquiring Joe Thomas would upgrade line, but also create uncertain future

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Jan 25, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Team Irvin tackle Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns (73) in the 2015 Pro Bowl against Team Carter at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

During his tenure as the Denver Broncos’ general manager, John Elway has never shied away from making a big move to keep the team in contention. It seems like every chance Elway gets to improve a unit, he does so with a top draft pick or a big free agent signing.

As Trevor Siemian can attest to, the unit in the biggest need of an upgrade this upcoming season is the offensive line. And, while Elway ponders who he should lock in at the left tackle position, fans and media outlets haven’t given up on the possibility of nabbing Joe Thomas, a premier talent at LT.

Realistically, what would Elway need to give up to get the Cleveland Browns’ star? Additionally, would such a move truly benefit the team?

Back in 2015, Denver had flirted with the idea of acquiring Thomas from Cleveland as a blindside protector for an aging Peyton Manning. Locked in a “win-now” mode, Elway believed that solving the problem at LT would push Denver into the Super Bowl.

In the end, Cleveland appeared to ask for just a little bit more than Elway was willing to give.

Looking at how things stand now, Denver could still be in play to acquire Joe Thomas. Denver currently possesses the 20th overall pick in the draft, which is significantly higher in value than their projected 32nd pick back in the middle of the 2015 season. It would behoove the Browns to lower their asking price outside of a top-20 pick.

If Cleveland truly seeks draft picks, Denver could potentially send its first rounder and third rounder in 2017, with a third rounder in 2018 to start the conversation for Thomas’ services. Considering that, according to ESPN, Cleveland almost settled for a first, second, and future third round pick this compensation could be appropriate for a team looking to rebuild.

Let’s assume that Denver reaches that deal with Cleveland. From a pure compensation perspective, I think most would agree that for the immediate future, Denver would be the beneficiary of that trade. But, what about the long-term effect of Thomas here in Denver?

Thomas’ age of 32 isn’t a death sentence for offensive linemen, especially one coming off of his 10th straight Pro Bowl season. But it’s without question that his play could begin to decline soon. Perhaps three top draft choices would pan out better in the long run than an immediate upgrade.

Should Denver acquire Thomas, it would make Russell Okung expendable. Paying Okung’s salary to start on the right side of the offensive line would be too pricey for Elway’s taste. Parting ways with Okung would still leave Denver with a significant hole at right tackle, but without a first round pick to potentially fill it.

Thomas has easily been the best offensive linemen of the past decade. Adding a six-time All-Pro with ten straight all pro appearances would undoubtedly make Denver a much better team. Whether Elway decides to go all-in for an immediate impact, or conserve resources for the team’s future, Thomas will continue to be an elite left tackle.

That’s something Broncos fans have sorely missed seeing for the last few seasons.

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