<![CDATA[By: Alan Payton
Wednesday was an important day in the National Football League’s offseason. Why? It was the deadline for teams to agree on long-term extensions with players who were slapped with the franchise tag. Most players don’t like the tag, even though it guarantees one season at the average salary of the Top 5 paid players at the relevant position, because there’s no long-term security. Guys want contracts with huge guaranteed bonuses. Thus many players slapped with the tag threaten to hold out even though NFL rules don’t allow clubs to negotiate a long-term deal after the deadline. So players really would be just costing themselves game checks by sitting out.
Trio Gets Big Raises
There were three big-name players who were threatening to hold out into the regular season: Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, and Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas. All three got their new deals Wednesday. Houston, the NFL leader in sacks in 2014 with 22 (a half-sack off the league record), got a six-year, $101 million extension that includes $52.5 million guaranteed. That guaranteed number is really the only one that matters. The contract is the richest in Chiefs history and the richest for a linebacker in NFL history.
Bryant, who led the league last season with 16 touchdowns and has had at least 88 catches, 1,200 yards receiving and 12 TDs each of the past three seasons, got a five-year, $70 million deal with $45 million guaranteed. Really, Bryant and Thomas were waiting on each other to set the market so it’s ironic that Thomas also got a five-year, $70 million deal, although his guarantee was “only” $43.5 million. He had not signed the one-year, $12.823 million tender and skipped the team’s offseason program.
So all three of those guys will be on the field Week 1, but I want to focus on Thomas.
Thomas By The Numbers
Thomas is Peyton Manning’s favorite target. As good as guys like Bryant, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown are, they haven’t totaled at least 250 receptions, 4,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns over the past three seasons. Thomas has, while not missing a game. He ranks third overall in receptions the past three years, second in receiving yards and tied for second in touchdowns.
Thomas has had three consecutive seasons with at least 92 receptions, 1,430 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. He is only the third player in league history to have three consecutive seasons of at least 1,400 yards receiving and at least 10 touchdowns. Last season he posted 10 100-yard games, including seven in consecutive weeks. His 1,619 receiving yards also set a single-season franchise record. The Broncos already lost Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas to free agency so they couldn’t afford to have the other Thomas sitting out any more games. This might be Manning’s last shot at a Super Bowl as he’s 39.
Week 1 Glance
Now that we are sure Thomas will play, barring injury, we can handicap Denver’s Week 1 opener against Baltimore. The Broncos are 4-point favorites with a total of 52. They were a perfect 8-0 at home last season while the Ravens were just 4-4 away from home. The last time the teams played was the 2013 season opener in Denver. The Broncos won 49-27 as Manning tied an NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes while adding 462 yards. Thomas had a big night with five catches for 161 yards and touchdowns of 26 and 78 yards. The Broncos have won five of their past six home games against AFC North teams such as Baltimore.