In 2013, the Denver Broncos rode a record-setting offense all the way to Super Bowl XLVIII. Peyton Manning rewrote the single-season record books at the quarterback position. No team in NFL history has scored as many points.
Of course, much of Manning's success can be tied to the embarrassment of riches he had at his disposal in the passing game, and now the Broncos face the task of trying to insure it stays that way for the foreseeable future.
To that end, the Broncos have entered into contract negotiations with a pair of their young offensive stars. That's the latest from Mike Klis of The Denver Post, who reports that team president John Elway said talks are underway with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas:
We've already talked to them to see if we can do something before the beginning of the year. We'd like to get something done before the beginning of camp. We don't want to do anything once training camp starts. They're both in their last years and we'd like for them to stay and be Broncos for a long time.
It's not hard to see why the Broncos would like to lock the duo up. Both are entering contract years, and if last year's production was any indication, letting them hit the open market could be an expensive proposition.
For the second straight season, Demaryius Thomas eclipsed 90 catches, 1,400 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2013. The 26-year-old led all NFL receivers with 14 scoring grabs, and Thomas ranked fifth among NFL receivers according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Julius Thomas, on the other hand, was a revelation a year ago. After catching only a single pass in his first two NFL seasons, Thomas exploded in the third. The 25-year-old ranked eighth among tight ends in receiving yards, ninth in receptions and third in touchdowns.
Of course, as Klis points out, signing the pair isn't going to be cheap:
Demaryius Thomas, a 2010 first-round draft pick who is coming off back to back seasons of Pro Bowl-caliber production, might command a contract worth $12 million a year based on the receiver's 2014 franchise tag salary.
Julius Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011 who had a breakout season in his third year of 2013, might be looking at a $7 million annual average.
That's almost $20 million in annual salary, for a team that currently has next to no cap space. In fact, according to Spotrac (subscription required), the Broncos currently have the least cap space in the NFL.
Still, it behooves the Broncos to get creative with the checkbook.
Are Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas worth a combined $19 million in annual salary to the Broncos?
The Broncos already lost Eric Decker, after he signed with the New York Jets in free agency. The team did an excellent job of replacing Decker with Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer, but in a year, both Thomases and Wes Welker will all hit free agency.
The general consensus of many scribes, including The Post's Benjamin Hochman, is that 2014 will be Welker's last season with the team, and that next year Sanders will slide into the slot and Latimer will take over outside.
Of course, for that plan to work, the Broncos need to keep their No. 1 wideout and Manning's favorite target over the middle (especially in the red zone) in the fold.
In other words, if the Broncos want to maintain offensive consistency for the rest of Manning's ride in the Mile High City, they need to keep the Thomas boys in town.
And that means paying them whatever it takes.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.