Yesterday, via the team’s official web site, Denver Broncos executive vice president and general manager John Elway indicated that he wants Demaryius Thomas to be a part of his team for years to come. Thomas, an All-Pro wide receiver scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, had the franchise tag placed on him earlier this month, keeping him in Denver for at least one more season.
“We’re going to continue to work with DT and his agent to hopefully get something done for a long-term solution for him,” Elway told Broncos TV’s Chris Hall from the league meetings in Phoenix. “We’d like him to remain a Denver Bronco, and that’s one of our goals, to be able to get that done. I’m trying to get together with his agent, and hopefully we can do that. We’ll continue to work diligently on trying to get something done.”
Back in early December, Thomas told Dan Hellie of the NFL Network that he’d be willing to take a “hometown discount” to stay in Denver, citing Peyton Manning and the fact that Denver took a chance on him as a first-round draft choices as the reasons why he be willing to cut the Broncos a break.
Elway wants Thomas. Thomas wants to be a Bronco.
So what’s the problem?
One can reasonably assume that money and terms are the only things standing in the way of getting something done. One can also objectively presume that Elway has a heavy incentive to rework Thomas’ contract, which currently represents a $12.8 million hit to the franchise salary cap this season – ranking second only to Manning’s contract. And Thomas, while cashing in this season, would surely prefer a bit more long-term security.
Making this situation even more interesting is the fact that Denver is currently operating at $13.2 million beneath the league’s salary cap – and that includes Thomas’ hefty 2015 number. Even when considering the projected salaries of the upcoming draft class, the Broncos still have approximately $7.3 million of wiggle room. Furthermore, most of the “big-name” free agents have already signed, so Denver’s cap space shouldn’t drastically change.
Simply put, Denver can afford Thomas, now and in the future. The question, however, is whether or not the Broncos can afford to lose him.
And that’s not a money issue.
Instead, it’s an issue of loyalty. It’s an issue of sending the right message to fans. It’s an issue of sending the right message to players, both present and future.
As Mile High Sports’ James Merilatt penned last Friday, the Broncos are potentially gaining a bad reputation with regard to their handling of players. Since free agency began, the team has lost seven of its own 15 free agents. Elway has officially retained five, including Thomas, who’s currently operating under a franchise tag status. Three are still TBD. Signing Thomas to a long-term deal would accomplish several important things.
First, it would demonstrate that Elway and Co. are willing to reward players who have earned it. This past season, Thomas joined Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only three players in NFL history to post three-consecutive seasons with 1,400-plus receiving yards and 10-plus touchdowns. Thomas has been a solid Bronco both on and off the field. There isn’t a known reason why the Broncos wouldn’t want a player like Thomas.
For fans, inking Thomas would also help to establish the team’s core identity going forward. Manning, who’s currently the face of the franchise (at least on the field), doesn’t have much time left. Like Rod Smith in the early 2000s, Thomas is a player that fans can get behind. He’s both likeable and productive, and the thought of locking up a fan favorite is comforting in a landscape that’s dominated by short contracts and free agency. As Jerry Seinfeld might say, fans have grown accustomed to “rooting for the laundry.” Breaking that trend and showing loyalty to Thomas would be a welcome change.
And lastly, by making Thomas a part of the team’s long-term plan, the Broncos become more attractive for their next quarterback. With an aging Manning on his way out, it’s safe to assume the Broncos want to at least have the ability to attract another top-flight signal caller. Perhaps this is done via a trade, or perhaps it’s accomplished through the draft. Or, it’s possible that Brock Osweiler is indeed the quarterback of the future. But just in case none of those scenarios play out, Denver wants to position itself as an optimal destination for whatever free agent quarterback is available.
Considering the aforementioned room within the salary cap, maybe Elway is busily making this happen from a financial standpoint. But with regard to personnel, any future pass thrower would find Thomas to be an appealing target. Having Eric Decker and Thomas on the roster surely had an impact on Manning’s decision to come to Denver back in 2012.
There’s a reason that Elway took to the team’s web site to verbalize his goals with regard to Thomas. Whether it’s crafty PR or genuine intent, getting No. 88 on the books beyond 2015 is a must. There’s little to lose and plenty to gain.