Typically the NFL trade deadline comes and goes with little to no activity. Teams don’t usually like to trade away a player that has gone through the entire offseason, training camp, and basically the entire first half of the regular season with them. This year, for whatever reason, was different.
We saw household players like Amari Cooper, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Golden Tate, and Denver’s own Demaryius Thomas switch teams before the deadline. Moves like these usually come when teams are looking for future compensation to build around next year.
A lot of discussions are going on around the league as to what the trade of Thomas means for the Broncos. He was the longest-tenured Bronco on the team and the last player remaining from the Josh McDaniels era — if you can even call that an era.
The 30-year-old 2010 first-round pick out of Georgia Tech established himself as one of the best Broncos wide receivers in team history and, quietly, worked his way up the record books to be one of the Broncos’ most-productive receivers behind only Rod Smith.
Thomas was still seen as an integral part of this team. He had three touchdown catches on the year. He was Emmanuel Sanders’ sidekick as one of the longest-running wide receiver duos in the league.
He was a humble, veteran presence; a former offensive captain that helped guide rookies — affectionately referred to as “my young guys” in the preseason — he knew would be taking his place down the road.
The Broncos received a fourth-round pick from Houston in the 2019 NFL Draft and swapped seventh-round picks in return for Thomas.
Some will say that was more than fair given Thomas’ injury history — although he hasn’t missed a game since 2011 — the numerous drops each season, the touchdown drought, and a general decline in production, although that can be partly mitigated by the Broncos not having a legitimate franchise quarterback since Peyton Manning’s demise during the 2015 season that ended with a Super Bowl ring and then retirement.Embed from Getty Images
For putting his body on the line and playing through pain and injury where others would not, and his outstanding career as a Bronco, others will say nothing less than a first-round pick should have been the return because of how much he meant to the organization and the community.
Most will agree that a trade like this means the Broncos are already looking to the future. How far in the future, though, can make all the difference.
Was the decision to trade Thomas to the Houston Texans just because they have rookie second-round pick Sutton, who turned 23 in October, waiting in the wings and pushing for more snaps?
SMU alum Sutton has proven to be a reliable receiver on deep throws and can overpower a cornerback when he needs to fight his way to the ball. He’s making plays and scoring touchdowns; a gem that still needs some work, but the early promise has shown already this season.
Sutton gives the Broncos an assurance that they can manage without Thomas despite being a work in progress, and it helps that he’s seven years younger and — at least for the next few years — a much cheaper option.
Some say trading their number one receiver means the Broncos are already looking to next season and that they’ve “thrown in the towel” on 2018.
But Thomas is not a 24-year-old Cooper still on a rookie deal. Niggling injuries take longer to heal, older receivers lose a step, and the salaries for top receivers aren’t cheap these days.
The Broncos also had at least one eye on offloading his big contract with several veterans, including Matt Paradis, Shaq Barrett, Shane Ray, and Bradley Roby, set to become free agents in 2019.
Jared Veldheer is also an unrestricted free agent next season, as well as a number of other key players, including Domata Peko, Zach Kerr, Billy Turner, Max Garcia, Jeff Heuerman, Tramaine Brock, and Adam Jones.
There’s also a solid list of restricted and exclusive rights free agents the Broncos will need to address by next March.
Thomas is due to earn $14 million in 2019 from the final year of his eye-watering five-year, $70m contract, which would have restricted the Broncos signing other players to new deals.
That was partly why they’ve taken four wide receivers — including Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton — in the last two drafts, and invited many more to
With Thomas off the roster and the books, Sutton will get more reps, more snaps, and a chance to develop quicker. The Broncos also free up cash and cap space for 2019, and carry $3.5m in dead money from Thomas, based on signing and option bonuses, according to Spotrac.
Thomas might not have always received the highest praise from some sections of Broncos Country, but the time will come when he will be immortalized in Denver as a Ring of Famer. Indeed, the Broncos will pay tribute to him at the game Sunday.
As much as he was beloved by most in Denver, at the end of the day, this is a business, and the Broncos needed to do what they could to make sure they got something in return while the trade window was open.
The Broncos are thinking of their future, but a trade like this is really only showing confidence in their young core that has shown plenty of promise if not the results through the first eight weeks of the season. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re throwing in the towel.
How they play against Houston in DT’s homecoming on Sunday and beyond could tell a different story.
What do you think, Broncos Country? Are the Broncos throwing in the towel or did they make the right move to get better now?