Here's the situation that exists. Demaryius Thomas' rookie contract came up at the end of 2014. In order to keep Thomas from hitting the open market, John Elway and the Denver Broncos applied the franchise tag--which is a one year deal (fully guaranteed) meant to keep the player under contract while a long-term deal can be worked out.
The two sides have a firm deadline in place (July 15th). After that date, a team can no longer extend a player. Even though the Broncos have "tagged" Thomas, Thomas has yet to sign the deal--which is his prerogative. At the moment, Thomas is doing nothing different than Ryan Clady back in 2013. Clady stayed away from the team, the two sides struck a deal on July 14th that season. Here's the lesson.
In week 2 of that season, Clady suffered a season ending Lisfranc injury. Had he signed the 1-year tender and played under the franchise tag in '13, he never would have received the longterm deal (5-years 52 million, 33 guaranteed) he did.
Elway's frustration could be with the logic of a hold out--he is correct, if DT gets hurt working on his own there is no coverage or protection for him. If he signs the deal and is working out with the team the one-year deal is fully guaranteed. But Demaryius is also thinking about his long-term future in the NFL. Thomas is willing to gamble now with the leverage he has rather than giving that leverage up to appease his boss short-term. Thomas is not thinking to the end of 2015, he's thinking five years down the road, approaching a 3rd NFL contract on the wrong side of 30.
In my opinion, Elway's frustrations have to do with the fact that negotiations between DT and the Broncos are no closer in consummating a new deal than they were months ago--and he is completely wrong by trying to use the media to put some pressure on the negotiations.
You have to realize something when it comes to John Elway. Everything Elway and the team puts out there publicly is done with an agenda. They are willing to be "transparent" (remember that phrase post-McDaniels?) and "open" so long as the narrative that is being told is coming predominantly from their side. Elway is a businessman who has made millions of dollars by having a keen understanding of the situation and by being adept in negotiating tactics. '
One way you control negotiations is by controlling the narrative. With the DT negotiations the pressure of getting a deal done lies directly on the shoulders of John Elway. It is very subtle, but by questioning Thomas' absence from offseason workouts, Elway is also starting to plant seeds of doubt.
Does he want to be a Bronco long term?
Is he willing to sacrifice for the team?
Will he be accountable going forward?
By escalating things in public, Elway is admitting that talks are more difficult than he imagined, and is banking on the fact that Broncos fans will ultimately side with him, at the very least laying the foundation for him to be able to say "I tried but I couldn't get through to the kid and speak common sense to him."
In this situation Elway has no ground to stand on and here's why.
What Elway the deal maker has forgotten is that he has shown very little loyalty to Broncos players that have become free-agents while seemingly writing a blank check for mercenaries that have provided mediocre returns on the investment.
Elway's marquee Broncos signings to this point are Champ Bailey--who he extended as a show of goodwill to a franchise that had just been burned by Josh McDaniels, Ryan Clady--who waited until July 14th to strike a long-term deal with the club in 2013 (employing the same tactic Thomas is using now), and Chris Harris Jr.--someone who accepted a far under market value contract in order to remain in Denver.
From Elway's first draft--the draft where contracts are starting to come up has yielded a 5th-year option on Von Miller, and a new deal for 7th round pick Virgil Green. Everyone else is gone.
Beyond those instances, I have sat and watched Broncos players leave to play else where season after season after season. Some of that is a product of the winning culture Elway has helped build, some of it an unwillingess to extend finances to players who were deemed expendable for whatever reasons.
Demaryius has now played under two regimes, three quarterbacks, three offensive coordinators, and not once have you ever heard "get me the damn ball" or "that guy sucks." Thomas has had plenty of opportunity to discredit teammates yet you never hear that sort of talk from him. He's been a guy who's worked hard through a tough injury-riddled rookie season, endured a tough mid-season quarterback change that drastically altered the face of the offense and limited his opportunities, and thrived in a system where the receivers have to always be on their toes for the next check at the LOS.
Thomas has quietly become one of the top talents in the league at his position, and he's done it with class every step of the way. In terms of toughness, I don't know a lot of players that set super bowl records in catches after dislocating their shoulder.
If John Elway wants to speed up negotiations, he's going to have to do one thing, and one thing only. Pay the man. If that number is too high for Elway and the Broncos, they can play out 2014 under the tag and let Thomas walk after the season, hoping that one of two things happen: 1) Sanders steps into the big role, 2) the offense under Kubiak gets simplified enough so that Latimer can take the field to make some sort of contribution.
The price you pay for talent and production is great. Thomas is a player that has shown the ability to adapt and succeed under a number of different situations. He's worth his weight in gold and John Elway is going to have to put his money where his mouth is in order to keep him.
Until then, negotiations should remain private behind closed doors.