Since Rod Smith hung up his cleats almost a decade ago, the Broncos have been in a continuous search for the man who could replace his caliber of play on the field.
The team used a significant amount of resources in the draft by attempting to fill Smith's eventual void before and after his retirement by selecting Ashley Lelie, Darius Watts, Eddie Royal, Marcus Nash and a myriad of other receivers who never seemed to pan out. The team even traded a high second-round selection for Javon Walker, whose career was never the same due to injuries and the stunning events he endured in regard to the death of Darrent Williams.
Over a decade of drafts passed by and the Broncos were only able to select one player who could hold a candle to what Smith accomplished as a Bronco. His name was Brandon Marshall, a fourth-round steal under Mike Shanahan that Jim Goodman had discovered while scouting the southeastern United States.
Though his time in Denver was tumultuous and filled with drama, Marshall was the best thing to come along at the position since No. 80. With frustrations reaching fever pitch between he and former coach Josh McDaniels, Marshall was traded away to the Miami Dolphins a week prior to the 2010 NFL draft for a couple of second-round draft selections.
To replace Marshall, the Broncos selected Demaryius Thomas in the first round of the NFL Draft. Considered a physical specimen with unparalleled athletic ability, it took Thomas several years to blossom into the All-Pro player he has become today.
In his last three seasons with the Broncos he has amassed 297 catches, 4,483 yards and 35 touchdowns — securing his spot as one of the best players at his position in the NFL. At this point in time, losing Thomas to another franchise would be unthinkable and counterproductive to the long-term efficacy of the franchise.
If the Broncos are unable to secure a long-term deal with Thomas, they would have the ability to franchise him for a second consecutive season. However, the financial implications of such a maneuver might prove to be too rich for the Broncos. By doing so, Thomas would receive 120 percent of his fully guaranteed 2015 salary of $12,823,000, which equates to $15,387,600. According to OverTheCap, the Broncos have 40 players under contract for the 2016 season with $31,056,054 available in space. This figure includes Peyton Manning, who if cut, would bring an immediate $19 million dollars in savings and give the team $50 million to spend in free agency without making any other moves.
Denver Post Broncos beat writer Troy Renck recently spoke at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club, and one of the topics for discussion was the future of Thomas with the team. Per Renck, the star wide receiver is holding out because he believes it is the only leverage he has on securing a new contract. Furthermore, if the team is unable to strike a deal with Thomas, he will test the free agent market in 2016 and seemingly would not feel comfortable playing under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season.
The actions and sentiments of Demaryius are understandable. He has performed at an All-Star level for the past two seasons and does deserve a new deal. Most of all he wants security. If a catastrophic event such as a significant injury were to happen, it could severely impact the amount of money he could earn elsewhere in any potential free agent deal.
If the Broncos don't give him the $13 million a year annually he is reportedly seeking, I have no doubts that somebody else will. The only issue that is a plausible outlook from the front office's perspective is that there would be a decline in production from Thomas whenever the transition away from Manning occurs. However, I would venture that a greater concern is the negative impact Thomas not being on the Broncos would have for the longevity of the franchise.
It is important to keep in mind that Cody Latimer at this point is a virtual unknown and that Emmanuel Sanders will become a free agent at the end of the 2016 season. Losing a talent as rare as Thomas would by virtue eliminate one of the core strengths of the team, which would be a tragedy for any young quarterback taking the reigns in the forthcoming post-Manning era. Good receivers might be a dime a dozen in the NFL, but great ones like Thomas are not. He is a legitimate Top 5-7 weapon at his position in the league and one of the true difference makers the team has on the offensive side of the ball.
Another tidbit worth mentioning is that another premier player for the Broncos will also be seeking a new contract at the end of this season. From the outside looking in, Von Miller appears to be the most likely candidate to receive the franchise tag next offseason. This furthers the point that the Broncos desperately need to get a deal with Thomas done before the deadline or the risk of him leaving the franchise increases appreciably.
In an era where few players live out the lengths of their careers with the team that drafted them, it would be a blessing to have a player such as Demaryius be able to be a Bronco for life. He has the ability to re-write all the Broncos receiving records and a chance at being a Hall of Fame player. When you find a gem like the Broncos did with Demaryius, you do whatever it takes to ensure that he remains a centerpiece of the franchise for years to come. I am hopefully optimistic that John Elway can work some of his front office magic and secure a long-term deal with Demaryius.
So if you are listening John, here is some advice that comes from one of my favorite movies of all-time. In the famous words of Teddy KGB from the movie Rounders, "Pay that man — pay that man his money."