Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) against the New England Patriots during the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos Should Wait And Franchise Tag Julius Thomas

As has been reported in the news over the last week, the Denver Broncos are actively trying to sign two of their core, young star players. Wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas, and tight end, Julius Thomas.

The Thomases were instrumental in the Broncos’ offense shattering almost every offensive record in the NFL book in 2013. Demaryius Thomas had another 1,400+ yard season, along with a league high 14 receiving TDs. It’s been reported by CBS Denver’s, Vic Lombardi, that the Broncos have already offered Thomas a 5 year deal. The numbers are unclear and the two parties have yet to agree to terms.

Obviously, the Broncos’ top priority is signing their All-Pro wide receiver. Bey Bey is arguably a top-5 player at his position and will likely command a contract that pays him close to $14M per year. And per John Elway, the Broncos are bent on getting his extension completed before training camp begins.

Julius Thomas’ situation is a little bit more complicated. Like Demaryius, Julius struggled with injuries his first two seasons in the NFL. Unlike Demaryius, he basically didn’t play AT ALL his first two seasons. Although Demaryius  struggled with health early on, he did see a combined 709 snaps in his first two seasons. Julius played 50.

Demaryius’ first fully healthy season just happened to coincide with the arrival of Peyton Manning to Denver. Since then, Demaryius has put up almost 3,000 yards receiving and 24 TDs. He’s also been elected to the Pro Bowl twice, along with earning a 2nd team All-Pro spot. In other words, Demaryius has been more consistent and prolific than Julius.

Julius stormed onto the NFL scene last year. Nobody (outside of Broncos Country) knew who he was. In his only (relatively) full season, Julius put up crazy numbers and was elected to the Pro Bowl. With 12 TDs, he broke Shannon Sharpe’s franchise record for receiving TDs for a tight end.

John Elway, and the Broncos, are faced with a bit of a conundrum with Julius. He has the talent to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with guys like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates, but lacks the track record. And he’s now playing in a contract year.

There’s no question that the Broncos want to keep Julius in Orange and Blue, but at what cost? With his extensive injury history, would the Broncos be remiss in paying him like Graham and Gronk? Maybe.

But I’m sure there’s a happy medium. ESPN’s Jeff Legwold brings up a very interesting possibility. To see if Julius can stay healthy, the Broncos could choose to hold off on negotiating a contract extension, let him play out his 2014 contract, and if he holds up and continues to produce, franchise tag him just before free agency begins next season. While under contract with the franchise tag, the team will have bought themselves time to negotiate a long-term deal with Thomas. And it protects the team in case Julius’ old adversary, the injury bug, comes back to haunt him.

In franchise tagging Thomas, the Broncos would be on the hook for around $7M guaranteed. The franchise tag number for 2014, for example, is $7.035M. A new contract for Julius would likely pay him close to that, so what do the Broncos have to lose in waiting to pay Julius Thomas? I say to you: NOTHING.

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