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But the real question is – and it’s one of the toughest John Elway and the Broncos’ front office has faced – should that long-term deal come from the Orange and Blue?
Here’s why the Broncos understandably should be – and have been — a little hesitant:
Elite wideouts not necessarily a Super ingredient
Quick, of the past 15 Super Bowl champs, how many truly have featured an elite, Hall-of-Fame-debate-worthy wide receiver?
Marvin Harrison and/or Reggie Wayne with the 2006 Colts are two who quickly come to mind, and possibly do-it-all Hines Ward of the previous season’s Steelers, but the list thins out real quick from there.
To get more specific, only four of the last 15 teams who hoisted the Lombardi Trophy have featured a wide receiver ranked in the league’s top 10 in terms of receiving yards that particular season. Meanwhile, 11 of the 15 have featured a top-10 quarterback in terms of passer rating.
We know the Patriots’ name is mud – or some other brown substance – here in Broncos Country, but they serve as the ultimate example here. In their four Super Bowl titles since the turn of the century, they’ve been paced by four different wide receivers (Troy Brown, Branch, David Givens and Julian Edelman) in terms of receiving yardage but only one — Brown, with 1,199 yards in 2001 – was ranked in the league’s top 24 that particular season.
And the one season (2007) where the Pats featured a truly elite wideout playing at the top of his game in Randy Moss, they came up short.
So add Moss – and Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson/Ochocinco and Brandon Marshall – to the list of elite receivers of the past 15 years who’ve failed to get their teams over the top.
And some haven’t even remotely come close, underscoring that the QBs remain king and wide receivers – not matter how freakishly gifted – remain largely a dependent position.
We’re talking real football (and $$) here — not fantasy
With the recent rise of the daily games, fantasy football’s grip on fans’ attention is tighter than ever.
It’s also skewed more than a few perspectives.
In fantasy land, stats are of course king and the staggering numbers that D.T. and his elite-WR counterparts put up are easy to quantify and – unlike reality, as we’ve just discussed – they play integral roles in championship seasons.
Meanwhile, back in NFL reality, large chunks of salary-cap money has to be devoted to putting together solid offensive and defensive lines, paying reserves who might see their only action on special teams and, in short, constructing a complete roster.
D.T. and his intergalatic numbers would be a no-doubt add for almost all fantasy teams, but in reality, there’s a little more than goes into the real-world team equation.
In other words, it’s not them, it’s us and how many of us have come to view NFL matters through our fantasy glasses.
The Orange and Blue future
Thomas’ 297 receptions since 2012 rank third in the NFL during that span. His 4,483 receiving yards rank second, and his 35 scoring receptions trail only Dez Bryant’s 41.
But that three-year span also happens to coincide directly with Peyton Manning’s reign in the Mile High City, but with the future Hall-of-Famer just turning 39 in March, it’s a run that’s about to end.
So with the 27-year-old Thomas still figuring to have another strong five-to-eight seasons remaining, how would a long-term deal and a corresponding chunk of guaranteed dollars fit in with the Broncos’ long-term plans?
Elway said last winter while discussing the franchise’s coaching change, that he wants build a championship contender not just for 2015 – but for 2016 and beyond.
And that blueprint will revolve around another QB – and possibly a different (run-first?) offensive scheme or even a defensive-first model built around Von Miller (who’s also up for a long-term deal next offseason) and Shane Ray.
In short, doling out millions for an elite wide receiver might not make nearly as much sense two years from now as it does currently during one last run at a Lombardi under Manning, and that’s what Elway and Co. have had to weigh as they weigh a long-term deal for Thomas.