All Eyes On Thomas, As Mandatory Camp Looms

Next week, the Broncos will host mandatory veteran mini-camp. Will Demaryius Thomas continue to hold out?

ENGLEWOOD, Colo—The Denver Broncos will host their mandatory veteran mini-camp starting next Tuesday, June 9th, which will run three days, through the 11th, as the team continues through Phase Three of their offseason training program.

So far, every able-bodied Bronco has attended the voluntary workouts—except Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Thomas has chosen to skip the voluntary OTAs in an effort to negotiate a long-term contract with the team.

Now, however, he is faced with non-compliance on a mandatory mini-camp, if he chooses to continue to hold out and skip the activities. Although its important to note that Thomas cannot be fined for missing mini-camp, because he hasn't signed his tender, this is a fork in the road for the team and for Thomas. All eyes are on the situation. Will Thomas attend?

My gut tells me probably not. The Broncos used their exclusive rights franchise tag on Thomas earlier this spring, guaranteeing him $12.83M for 2015. Although that would put him in the upper echelon of the highest paid players at his position (for a single season), Thomas is looking for long-term security, which the franchise tag does not offer.

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General Manager John Elway has maintained that the Broncos are working on good faith to extend Thomas and keep him in Denver for the next several years, but obviously, the two camps are far apart on the monetary value the star wideout should garner. And as far as Elway’s concerned, Thomas’ absence from camp has no effect on the negotiations.

“To be dead honest, I see absolutely zero value in him being away from here—zero value for him,” Elway said back in April. “There is no value for him not to be here with his teammates. As far as negotiations and his new deal and what’s going on, we’d like to get something done. By him being away from here, there is zero value not only to us, but also to him. To me, it makes no sense. That actually has no effect on anything that we’re talking to about trying to get a contract done with him, because that’s what we’d ultimately like to do. For him not to be here has zero effect.”

Thomas has continued to work out this offseason, albeit away from the team. One of Thomas’ concerns is that he doesn’t want to join his team, with increased intensity and the physicality of competition, and get hurt, thus putting his future prospects beyond 2015 in doubt. Elway doesn’t see it that way.

“That makes no sense to me, him not getting hurt,” Elway said. “If he gets hurt here, he’s covered. If he gets hurt somewhere else, he’s not. Tell me why that makes sense that he wouldn’t be here working out with us? That’s why I don’t understand it at all. That’s part of the game, but it makes no sense for him not be here.”

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As I’ve said before, in fairness to Thomas, holding out is the only leverage he has towards achieving long-term security in his career. He wants to continue his career with the Broncos, but he also wants to be paid market value for his services.

After all, Thomas has been one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers over the last three seasons. With 4,483 receiving yards and 35 touchdowns, he ranks second in the NFL from 2012-14. And with 297 receptions, he ranks third in the league over that same time span.

Now, some can argue that the Peyton Manning effect has much to do with Thomas’ production, but at the end of the day, there is no doubting that the former Georgia Tech star is one of the league’s top-5 players at his position.

The Broncos will likely have significantly more salary cap room after 2015, especially if Manning decides to hang up his cleats. If Shane Ray blows the doors down as a rookie, the team could also choose to move on from DeMarcus Ware and his $10M cap hit.

Along with Von Miller, Thomas represents the best of the Broncos young core players. If they want to continue to contend for AFC supremacy post-Manning, they will need to lock these guys up long-term.

However, the Broncos took Cody Latimer in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft and if worse comes to worse, they’d likely still get excellent production out of their receiving corps, without Thomas. Emmanuel Sanders has a little something to do with that, too.

Regardless, as the Broncos gear up for mandatory veteran mini-camp next week, all eyes will be on the Thomas situation. Broncos fans hope there is a resolution to this standoff soon.

Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen and on Google+.

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