Good morning, Broncos Country!
In all the hype before Week 1 and the following excitement over the dramatic win, the necessary elation over extending Emmanuel Sanders - the Broncos latest coup in keeping a superstar on the roster - got lost in the shuffle.
But the wide-smiling wide-out got a chance Friday after the big win to thank the Broncos and Broncos Country for being everything he's wanted in his NFL home.
"I remember playing for the Steelers and walking into Foot Locker and being tired of not seeing my jersey up there," Sanders said. "The moment I come here, I go for 1,400 yards and I see fans with my jersey on."
Sanders' 1,404 yards in 2014 was more than his most productive two years in Pittsburgh combined. And in just his first two years with Denver, Sanders racked up more than 2,500 yards compared to 2,000 and change in four years with the Steelers.
Named No. 65 of Pro Football Focus' top 101 players right now, Sanders was the only Broncos' offensive player to make that list.
"It just shows me that all my hard work paid off," Sanders said, noting injuries in Pittsburgh that sidelined him. "Then coming out here, this city just embraced me with so much love. I don't take that for granted. I understand and that's why I say all the time that I love the city of Denver. It's been very good to me and my family. I'm always going to put my heart on the line for this city."
Brandon Stokley (@bstokley14) September 11, 2016
As the Broncos' No. 2 wide-out whose numbers the past two seasons in Denver have reflected No. 1 production for many NFL teams, the seventh-year veteran knows that roster rankings are just for listings.
On the field, players are expected to do whatever it takes to help the team win. And Sanders has been doing that ever since he came to the Mile High City two years ago.
Known for staying after practices just to catch more balls on the JUGS Machine, Sanders bought one for his backyard last year so he could get as much practice as possible.
"At my position, the most important thing is catching a football, so why wouldn't I work on that?" Sanders told Associated Press last season. "In the offseason, I would probably catch 100 to 200 balls a day. Catch them all different type of ways. Sometimes I'd wake up in the morning I'd have my wife shoot me a couple balls. I just like catching passes."
And now Sanders will be catching passes in Denver for several more years - something that makes the wide receiver very happy.
Well aware that teammate Demaryius Thomas has a hefty paycheck in the $15 million range, Sanders was just looking for a contract from the Broncos that acknowledged his "laying it on the line" contributions.
And the new contract is definitely evidence the Broncos do.
"When my agent reached out to me that the Broncos were interested in an extension, I was excited about that, but I knew that we do have a receiver in Demaryius Thomas ... I knew that it was going to be tough," he said.
Spurred in part by Tavon Austin's recent deal averaging $10.5 million/year, the Broncos knew they needed to come in above that. They settled on three years for $33 million.
That was the right number.
"It was a great number, and I'm excited to be here," Sanders said.
The former Steeler was about to start this regular season with a $5.6 million salary, the final year on a three-year, $15 million contract signed in March 2014.
The new deal includes a sweet $10.75 million signing bonus, making the total contract $38.6 million over four years.
Mike Klis reported Sunday that the contract breaks down like this:
- 2016: $10.75 million signing bonus along with a $2.5 million salary to total $13.25 million - all fully guaranteed.
- 2017: $6.75 million salary that is fully guaranteed, plus a $100,000 working bonus for a total of $6.85 million.
- Between this season and next, that's $20.1 million guaranteed, which is nearly $15 million more than the $5.6 million he would have made this season.
- 2018: $8.25 million salary with $6.9 million guaranteed against injury until five days after free agency opens in March 2018, at which point it becomes fully guaranteed.
- 2019: $10.25 million salary - not guaranteed.
Sanders told the media last week that he knew he could have played out his contract this year with the Broncos and then become a free agent and likely made more money at another team.
But he wanted to stay in Denver - for the fans and for the team.
"I could've possibly went to another team that's pass happy, but I'm all about winning championships, and I think that we've got the formula," Sanders said. "We've got a nucleus of guys here and Elway can contest to this that if we can keep these guys around, we'll have an opportunity every single year to make that run and win another championship and that's what it's about."
And Sanders believes that's always worth a "hometown discount."
"At the end of the day, we're all rocking hardware on our fingers right now and we're chasing to get two or maybe three or four, so that's what it's about," Sanders added.
The fact that the Broncos offense is being led by a rather untested quarterback is that much more reason for Sanders to keep bringing his A-game every week.
"Just get as open as you can and catch every single pass and allow him to grow confidence in us," the Bellville, Texas, native said. "Knowing that if you throw it up, that we can go up and get the deep ball, or if you throw it up and it's a bad ball, we'll bat it done."
The wide receiver is very encouraged so far about the Broncos' offense - especially after pulling through against the Panthers in spite of many early mistakes.
"We turned the football over two or three times last night. The defense allowed them to go 60 percent on third down, and we still were able to come out and win that ball game," Sanders said, adding that the Broncos are easily a contender if they can eliminate the mistakes. "This offense has the opportunity to be special and very unique."
With exceptional players like Sanders, there's no doubt it can be in the hunt.
"Kubiak said it, this offensive line has an opportunity to not be good, but it has an opportunity to be special," Sanders said. "That's what it's about. If C.J. is running the ball and me and Demaryius and ‘Virg' and Cody and the whole wide receiving corps can make our plays, I think this offense has the opportunity to be really good."
And with Sanders on that roster, we know that opportunity just got a little more realistic.
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