Good morning, Broncos Country!
Julius Thomas (remember that guy? yeah, he used to play here) took to the press and the airwaves recently to talk about his monster deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars - a five-year, $46 million contract with $24 million guaranteed and an average annual salary of $9.2 million.
In addition to his appreciation to Broncos fans, he said some enlightening things about the final deal, primarily that the "only one-year-guaranteed" stipulation in his contract offer from the Broncos last summer was the deal-breaker.
"It was clear management didn't want to make a long-term commitment to me," Thomas wrote, before adding on the air that the lack of a guarantee for at least half of the contract was disconcerting to him. "You know, you're excited about working with a team you've been with, a team you've grown accustomed to, thinking you're getting a deal done, only to see one year guaranteed. The first thing to come to mind is, 'why would a team only guarantee one year on a five-year deal unless it didn't plan on making a long-term commitment to you?'"
That clause proved to Thomas he would be looking elsewhere come Free Agency. And his reason for choosing Jacksonville - other than the fat paycheck - is no longer so surprising.
"I just felt Jacksonville wanted me the most, and I think that's important as a player," Thomas said. "You want to be somewhere that truly wants you and appreciates you and is going to make your life and your work environment a much better place."
So it would appear JT wanted to feel significant, and the Broncos just weren't going to be able to offer him a commitment.
Are we still talking about football - or was that the plot to just about every failed relationship in human history?
Although Thomas has taken some heat for his comments of going to a "winning environment" despite the Jags' 3-13 record last season, it's clear the tight end is looking for a place that needs him. And Jacksonville certainly needs something, so why not a 6'5" 250-pound tight end that can run fast and catch well (shh...they'll find out the blocking thing on their own).
Acknowledging that Peyton Manning was a tremendous football player, Thomas said he knew he had to move on.
"I can't stay in a place and accept a contract that doesn't have the right structure, as much as I enjoyed playing with Peyton and all my other teammates," Thomas said.
And though he won't be playing with Manning, Thomas believes he is ready to share what he has learned after spending four years with the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback and a dozen Pro Bowlers while on the Broncos.
The basketball-turned-football-player believes his role will be to help turn around a struggling program.
"People criticize me, but early on in Peyton's career, his team was struggling and he had to take the Indianapolis Colts to where they are now," Thomas pointed out, also noting that the Broncos were 4-12 the year before he got there.
"People forget that every team in this league is good and they are all just a couple of plays or players away from being a good team," said Thomas, who believes Jags' second-year quarterback Blake Bortles has all the tools he needs to be a great quarterback. "He's anxious, he's excited to have me here and excited for us to grow together in our careers."
Thomas also said he's happy to impart any knowledge he gained from Manning and the Broncos about running an offense and looks forward to being a mentor.
"I've had the privilege to play with some of the greatest players this game has ever seen - Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Brian Dawkins, DeMarcus Ware plus a lot of really good young players," Thomas said. "I have a lot of football left ahead of me, and four to five years from now, the goal is to experience an environment here like it was in Denver."
So now I have a small (very slight actually) confession.
I've been critical of Julius Thomas (that's not the confession, by the way, except maybe to apologize for giving him my Best Actress award back in February).
I didn't like the "it's too f-ing easy" stunt against the Jets. I thought it was ridiculous that Bengals' safety Reggie Nelson, got an interception off Thomas in Week 16 for just flat-out taking the ball away from a guy who should have had no trouble keeping the ball in that match-up. Plus I could never understand why he hadn't really tried to learn to block effectively after four years in the NFL.
And when the offseason came, and information was coming from his agent about the Broncos not offering him a decent contract last summer or Thomas' dad calling the contract "piss poor" and picking fights with Broncos fans, I was pretty sour on a guy I've loved having as a Bronco.
So when JT packed up for the beach last week, I was right there with the "don't-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out" crowd.
I even said as much on a Jacksonville podcast this week. Although I was complimentary of the receiving option the Jaguars will be getting in JT, I definitely indicated they overpaid for their newest offensive weapon who's somewhat injury prone and not much more than receiver much of the time.
And then I listened to Thomas' interview and had a change of heart - not about the Broncos' decision but about Thomas' rationale in the contract issues - and my opinion of him.
I'm still glad Denver let him walk. For both scheme and price tag, Virgil Green and Owen Daniels (plus possibly Joe Don Duncan) will be far more than capable of giving Manning the protection he needs plus the receiving options he likes to have.
But I can appreciate Thomas' desire to be on a team where there's a mutual need - he needs to feel wanted and appreciated - and possibly just compensated - while Jacksonville needs to feel confident it has a sure-handed option for a young quarterback and a struggling offense.
So, Julius, rather than saying "Good riddance," I can genuinely say to you, "Good luck. It was great having you as a Bronco."
P.S. - But I secretly hope you can't block any better the next time the Broncos play the Jags.
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