Mo’ Playmakers Mo’ Problems

Sports fans sure have changed. Before all fans did was cheer on the guys in their favorite team’s jerseys. These days though, it seems that everybody is an armchair GM. It is honestly my favorite part of being a fan. I love to imagine the decisions I would make if it were my team.

Of course being a fan I only have a limited amount of knowledge. I don’t pretend to completely understand all of the workings of the salary cap. And I am no expert when it comes to understanding all of the intricacies of building a roster. But I can pretend and that is what I am going to do here today.

Last season Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas burst out on the scene of the NFL. Demaryius finally hit his stride and started looking worthy of his first round selection. Julius came out of nowhere to prove that the Broncos’ coaches know what they are doing. Their path to the NFL was completely different from each other. But now here they both are at an important crossroads in their career. Both are facing a contract year and both are looking to get paid.

Now the Broncos have a lot of contract extension decisions looming on the horizon. Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore, Chris Harris, Terrence Knighton, and Wes Welker are the big names on our free agents to be list. So far it looks like the Broncos are first focusing on DT and JT. So that is where I will also focus.

A common complaint of these kind of articles from fans is that why should we, as fans, care? It’s not our money right? But the money should matter to the fans. The salary cap exists as a restriction to NFL teams. One bad contract can torpedo any franchise. So in order to value what I think is a fair price for these two superstars, I will compare them to their peers. I will be using average, per year salary for simplicity purposes.

Let us begin with Julius. The tight end position has been in a very interesting transition lately. As tight ends move further from blocking and closer to receiving, they believe they should get paid like receivers. During this offseason Jimmy Graham fought in the courts to be considered a receiver and not a blocker. Unfortunately for him he was ruled against. Fortunately for him though, the Saints still gave him boatloads of cash.

The top five paid tight ends are Graham ($10 mill), Rob Gronkowski ($9 mill), Jason Witten ($7.4 mill), Vernon Davis ($7.35 mill) and Kyle Rudolph ($7.3 mill). Let’s get this out of the way right now. There is not way JT will get Graham’s deal. Even Elway has said that. Graham has proven himself to be the Megatron of tight ends. JT could get to that point someday but he still has a lot to prove.

Initially I didn’t believe JT was worth this kind of top five money but the Broncos have a few things working against them.

The first being Kyle Rudolph’s contract which he just signed this offseason. From an offensive stand point JT has been much better than Rudolph. They are at similar stages in their career but JT has gone offensively with Rudolph is more of a classic tight end build. If I were JT’s agent I would be using this as leverage.

Which is fair in my opinion. My biggest fear is that he uses the Patriot’s as leverage. For the last few seasons the Broncos and Patriots have engaged in trying to one up each other. The Broncos don’t compete with the AFC West these days. They compete with the top franchises like the Patriots. Initially this was the Broncos believing that the Patriots were the team to match up to in the AFC. And now it is the Patriots trying to catch up. Perhaps JT will use Gronk’s contract to bump himself up to top three kind of money.

At the same time the Broncos could and would counter with Gronk’s injury history. Besides Gronk has proven to be a vital part of the offense. Even a great QB like Tom Brady struggles (as much as Brady is capable of struggling, which isn’t much) without his star tight end. Brady needs Gronk and Gronk needs Brady. But does Peyton Manning need Julius Thomas? Manning has had success with Dallas Clark, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen. He makes careers for tight ends.

I believe the Broncos will play hardball. They won’t feel the need to give him Graham or even Gronk money. Not yet at least.

But where does that leave JT? Does he deserve more than Witten, Davis or Rudolph? Sure the difference between $7.3 million and $7.5 million doesn’t seem like a big deal to us as fans but I bet it means a whole lot to JT and tight ends around the league.

We can’t compare him to Witten because of the age difference and experience. Meanwhile Rudolph is a different type of tight end. The best comparison is still not a good one and that is to Vernon Davis.

Unfortunately for JT, Davis has better stats than he does. And he has done it for longer. I see Julius as a future Davis. But does that mean we pay him more now?

Ideally I would like to give JT a “prove it” contract extension. But that might be too risky. And if I were JT I wouldn’t take any less than $7.5 million. Not only because I think he will be better than those guys but also because the tight end position is changing. They are a hot commodity right now and JT needs to take full advantage.

You still with me? Good because we are only half way done. Let’s move onto Demaryius Thomas.

Let me start off by pointing out that Eric Decker is now the 18th best paid receiver. 18th! Decker! How did that happen?

So if Decker is 18th best and he is getting paid $7.2 million a season, where does that put DT? Well let’s look at the top five paid receivers and see where he fits.

Calvin Johnson ($16 mill), Larry Fitzgerald ($16 mill), Mike Wallace ($12 mill), Dwayne Bowe ($11.2 mill), and Vincent Jackson ($11.1 mill).

Right off the bat let’s eliminate the top two. Megatron can demand trucks full of and made of money. So if he is at $16 million then that is the cap for every wide receiver. Larry Fitzgerald meanwhile is past his prime and his contract really hurts his team. To be fair though, Larry earned that right.

Interestingly enough there are a lot of comparisons between DT and Fitz. Both have had back to back 1,400 yard seasons ending in a disappointing Super Bowl loss. Both had 22-24 touchdowns during that time. It took Fitz five years to accomplish that and it took DT four years.

The only thing that Fitz has on DT so far is how healthy he has been. Fitz has played 10 seasons and missed four total games! Meanwhile DT has played four seasons and missed 11 games. I think DT is Fitzgerald 2.0 but I don’t think he has earned that Fitzgerald contract quite yet.

Moving on down the list. DT has better stats than Wallace. Both have had similar QB experiences. Wallace is probably overpaid. I count that as a win for DT.

He also has better stats than Bowe and Jackson. Although this is unfair because DT has played with Manning while Bowe and Jackson have been stuck with the likes of Alex Smith and Josh Freeman.

It is obvious that DT deserves more money than Wallace, Bowe and Jackson. He will easily get over $12 million. But how close will he creep to that $16 million?

If I were DT I would sell myself as Fitz 2.0. I would scare the Broncos with threats to explore free agency. A desperate team might just throw Megatron money towards him.

If I were the Broncos I would feel comfortable giving him anywhere from $12-14 million. He has potential to be a superstar and he has proven he is a game changer.

Julius and Demaryius are both in pretty good shape. I’m not sure if they exactly deserve top three money at this point in their career. But I believe they have a good argument that they soon will. I’m not sure the Broncos can figure out how to afford both of them. On the open market these two would be treated like kings. And hopefully the Broncos will treat them like that as well.

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