According to a report from Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole, the Denver Broncos are planning on using the franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, while letting tight end Julius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton hit the free agent market. This report makes a lot of sense for multiple reasons. Let's go player-by-player, starting with Demaryius Thomas.
Demaryius Thomas was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. He played a total of 21 games his first two seasons, catching 54 passes for 834 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. He added another 10 catches for 297 yards and one touchdown in the post-season.
It wasn’t until he got healthy and had Peyton Manning at quarterback that his numbers really shot up. In his last three regular seasons he had 297 catches for 4,483 yards and 35 touchdowns over 48 games. He also added 36 catches for 402 yards and five touchdowns in five games of postseason play in the last three years.
His 2014 season was by far his best season in the NFL, with a career high in catches (111) and yards (1,619). He also added 11 touchdowns, three less than his career high of 14. On top of that, he also set and tied some records with ten 100-yard games on the season, seven of which were consecutive games.
Many Broncos fans have taken to knocking Thomas for his blocking, or lack thereof, in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs. However, he was consistently good on blocking all season.
Demaryius Thomas is one of those receivers that you cannot just let walk away. So it makes a lot of sense that the Broncos would franchise tag him, if they are unable to work out a long term deal. The benefits of using the franchise tag keeps Thomas in Denver for at least one more year.
It also gives the Broncos more time to negotiate a contract with Thomas’ agents to keep him in Denver for years to come. The negotiations would come without fear of other teams butting in and trying to sign him away.
Julius Thomas was drafted in the fourth round in 2011. He missed his first two years with injuries, but made his name known in 2013, which was his first healthy season. Before 2013, Thomas had only one catch in five games played, all in his rookie year.
Then, when healthy, he caught 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games of the regular season. However, Broncos fans were wary of his blocking as a tight end. In 2014, concerns grew even more as a blocker and they appeared in other aspects of his game as well.
In 2014, Thomas played in only 13 games and appeared to be unwilling to play through an ankle injury. He caught a total of 43 passes for 489 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, he caught only six passes since week 11 of the season for 66 yards and no touchdowns.
Concerns of his toughness, durability, and willingness to play during this time arose. Throughout the season, his inability to block became more and more clear to fans and the coaches.
Letting Julius Thomas test his value on the free agent market is a smart move for the Broncos. He reportedly turned down an offer averaging 8.5 million dollars per year before the season started. He may still value himself as such.
However, he may be a product of Peyton Manning and with Manning’s future unclear, the Broncos may be unwilling to overpay for his services. Another thing to note is with Gary Kubiak as the new head coach, Julius Thomas is not the best fit for the scheme. Kubiak utilizes dual threat tight ends who can catch and block. Thomas can catch but not block, and the Broncos may be unwilling to pay him a lot on the hopes he improves in that regard.
Finally is Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton. Knighton’s impact on the Broncos defense does not show up in stats. What he does is clog up running lanes and take up space, opening up other defenders to make the play. He, however, still piled up 61 total tackles, five sacks, and an interception in his two years with the Broncos.
Knighton recently made comments that he would follow former Broncos defensive coordinator to his current job as Oakland Raiders head coach by saying, “I want to be where Jack is. I will just leave it at that.” He also stated that he does not feel that the Broncos want him back but since backtracked on these opinions, making it clear that he values a winning culture and would be willing to "forego a few million" to stay in Denver.
The Broncos do have issues with Knighton, who according to the report by Cole, played most of the season 40 pounds overweight. There was another report that Knighton was fined over $300,000 for being overweight throughout the season. So, the idea of the Broncos letting him hit the free agent market to test his value makes a lot of sense.
They do not want to end up overpaying the market value for a player who struggled to maintain his weight. Letting him test the open market gives Knighton and the Broncos a feel on his value and could still lead to a deal. With Knighton though, a lot depends on the new defensive coordinator and scheme the Broncos are going with moving forward.
Many Broncos fans want to see all three back, and while the Broncos cap situation is better than most realize, it is not in that great of a position. Franchise tagging Demaryius Thomas should be as last resort to give the Broncos more time to work out a new deal.
Meanwhile, letting Julius Thomas and Terrance Knighton test free agency gives them and the Broncos a better feel for their value. That value could be in a range the Broncos like, or could be higher than they want to go with the player. Either way, a lot of changes have already happened with the Broncos and even more are closing in fast.