Julius Thomas is having one heck of a year. After exploding on the NFL scene in 2013, following 2 ineffectual seasons, Thomas is back at it again this year. In 2013, he broke Denver Broncos franchise records. This year, he's breaking league records.
In yesterday's 41-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders, Thomas caught 6 balls, for 63 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those 2 TDs put him at 12 for the season, making him the only tight end in the history of the game to produce consecutive 12 touchdown seasons.
Thomas is in a contract year. And although the team has expressed an interest to get him re-signed long term, it hasn't happened yet. A recent report indicated that the Broncos have made a serious offer to Thomas, but that he declined an extension that would have paid him between $7.5M-$8.5M per year.
If Thomas is looking to become the highest paid tight end in the game, he'll have to improve his run-blocking skills, like Rob Gronkowski, who makes $10M per year and currently sits on top of the tight end salary mountain.
Nevertheless, Thomas is a special talent. It's likely that he'll never become the run blocker in the trenches that many in Broncos Country want him to be. But it is remarkable how playing with Peyton Manning can make one's star burn so much brighter.
With just over half of the season in the books, it's conceivable that Thomas could catch 20 or more TDs this year and really shoot him into the stratosphere of the free agent open market, at which point, the Broncos would be in an even more precarious position with the salary cap, should they pursue him.
The franchise tag is always an option, but it would likely cost the Broncos north of $8M guaranteed, which might be worth it to retain one of the NFL's top tight ends. Thomas claims that playing at his level is "so easy", but playing without Manning would likely bring him back to Earth somewhat.