Rounding Up the Latest Denver Broncos Offseason Buzz
The Denver Broncos have one week of mandatory minicamp left. Once minicamp is wrapped up this week, the team will have a bit of a break before the start of training camp in late July.
There is a massive construction project going on at Dove Valley right now. The team is expanding the campus, the offices and adding a state-of-the-art indoor facility. It’s fitting that the team is currently constructing a new look on the field as well.
There’s a lot of buzz building around this team as it looks to make another run at the Super Bowl this year. Here’s a roundup of the latest buzz about the Broncos you need to know.
Lamin Barrow Could Push Early and Often for Playing Time
In the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Broncos finally addressed the need at middle linebacker. Lamin Barrow from LSU was the selection, and he has an intriguing skill set for the new-look “Mike” linebacker.
Jeff Legwold, from ESPN.com, reports that Barrow could push early and often for playing time as a rookie.
Barrow is not a traditional two-down thumper who struggles on passing downs. Instead, he is mostly known for his ability as a coverage linebacker. Playing mainly weak-side linebacker at LSU, Barrow had plenty of experience making plays in space against athletic receivers and tight ends.
Today’s NFL is all about trying to defend against pass-happy offenses. Old-school linebackers who only defend the run but come off the field on passing downs are the dinosaurs of the NFL. New-school middle linebackers can stay on the field for all three downs.
Barrow has the length, speed and athleticism to stay with receivers on downfield routes. He changes direction quickly and has good closing burst to the football. Barrow can bait quarterbacks into bad throws, and this makes him a great asset on passing downs.
He is not known as a run defender, but Barrow has the athleticism and instincts to find his way to the ball quickly. The Broncos want more speed and versatility on defense, and Barrow may be the answer they’ve been looking for at middle linebacker.
We’ll see him compete with veteran Nate Irving to win the starting job in training camp. He’s been impressive most days during minicamp and might be in line to play more than some think in 2014.
Broncos May (or May Not) Have Made an Offer to Demaryius Thomas
The Denver Broncos have a couple of important players entering the final year of their contract. Vic Lombardi, from CBS4 in Denver, tweeted that sources told him the Broncos recently offered a five-year contract to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Mike Florio, from ProFootballTalk.com, reports that a team source told him “nothing [is] going on” with contract negotiations. Florio admits in his article that it’s possible that different interpretations can be applied to whether an actual contract was offered or not.
Regardless of where the team is at in the negotiation process, Thomas has no concern about his contract.
"I never think about that. I haven’t thought about it at all. I don’t even know if Decker was talking about it [last year]. All we talked about was being able to play with each other again. He wanted to come back, but it just didn’t work out. You really never think about the big payday, or anything like that. We like playing together, and I like playing football."
Thomas is one of the best wide receivers in the game today, and he should be compensated as such. In recent years we’ve seen two wide receivers (Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald) sign contracts in excess of $100 million. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Thomas get a deal similar in price.
Johnson signed a seven-year, $113.4 million contract with an average salary of around $16 million. Fitzgerald signed a similar deal, with a similar annual salary. Whereas Johnson’s deal was structured to be somewhat cap-friendly in the first few years, Fitzgerald’s deal has a larger price tag early on.
Assuming a five-year deal was offered, Thomas is unlikely to receive a deal with a contract total over $100 million. A contract with a closer structure to what the Broncos may want is the deal Percy Harvin signed with the Seattle Seahawks. That deal has a contract total of $64.25 million and pays Harvin an annual salary of $10.7 million.
Simply put, Thomas is worth more than $10.7 million annually. Perhaps a deal more in the range of $14-$15 million annually should be in order—if not more.
The Broncos have to be cautious moving forward. Thomas needs to get paid, but the team also has to manage expectations in the post-Manning era.
Peyton Manning has three years left on his contract, and it would be a surprise to see him play beyond that time. That means Thomas has three more years of elite production, then after that is a great unknown.
The expected drop-off A.M. ("After Manning") is certainly going to have an effect on the offer Thomas receives from the Broncos. It would be great for the team to wrap up the deal in the near future, but it could always use the franchise tag in 2014 on Thomas if there’s any setbacks in negotiations.
There Is No Offer (Yet) for Julius Thomas
While there are conflicting reports about whether or not Demaryius Thomas has received a contract offer, the team has not yet made an offer to Julius Thomas. Troy Renck, from The Denver Post, reports the two sides are talking but nothing has developed from that.
Last year was a breakout season for Thomas. The 2011 third-round pick had missed most of his first two seasons in the league due to an ankle injury (and subsequent surgery) that he suffered in his rookie year. Once healthy, it didn’t take Thomas long to prove his worth to the team as a dangerous weapon who could create mismatches anytime he steps onto the football field.
Targeted 90 times by Peyton Manning in 2013, Thomas hauled in 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He did all this while missing two games due to a minor knee injury.
Looking over the top contract values for tight ends in the league, no deal stands out as one that “breaks the bank.” However, that could quickly change this offseason.
Jimmy Graham has been franchise tagged by the New Orleans Saints, and he’s eligible for a one-year deal that will pay him around $7 million in 2014. Graham wants that amount to be changed because he lined up in the slot or out wide as a receiver on 67 percent of his snaps last year, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The difference in price tags from a tight end to a wide receiver is roughly $5 million.
This Graham situation is one that Thomas is monitoring this offseason.
"I’ve kind of been keeping, not a close eye, but a little bit of an eye on that situation [with the Saints’ Jimmy Graham] obviously, because it could probably come back to affect a lot of us tight ends. But the way I feel about it is, ‘Does two letters next to your name on the depth chart really determine your value to a team?’ And that’s kind of how I look at it. Does it matter if he’s a tight end, or if he calls himself a slot receiver or a running back? I mean, if you’re going to have double-digit touchdowns and contribute a bunch of yards in the receiving game, I just say that you’re a guy that makes great plays and is a value to his team." Thomas concluded, "So I don’t know why the argument necessarily comes down to either you’re a tight end or a receiver. I think that if you’re a guy that makes plays, that’s how you should be valued."
Thomas put up career-best numbers last year, but offensive coordinator Adam Gase feels the young tight end has only shown us the tip of the iceberg.
“I think he’s just going to keep getting better. He works so hard. He’s a really smart player and person. So he understands what defenses are trying to do, and I’m really excited to see what he can do this year.”
The Broncos should work diligently to find a new agreement with Thomas. He’s a key player for the offense, and he’s obviously one of Manning’s favorite targets. Finding a contract that is mutually agreeable may be a bit more difficult because of the changing value of tight ends and the fact that Thomas has yet to play a full season in his pro career.
Quanterus Smith Receiving More Opportunity
The Broncos added Quanterus Smith in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft with the idea that he could boost the team’s pass rush when healthy. He injured his ACL in his final season at Western Kentucky when he was leading the NCAA in sacks.
Smith missed his first season as a pro due to this injury. The Broncos felt it was best to place the young pass-rusher on injured reserve and give him more time to recover.
Over a year and a half from the injury, Smith has shed his knee brace and is ready to prove himself as a pro. If he stays healthy, Smith could be a valuable part-time pass-rusher for the Broncos.
Andrew Mason, from DenverBroncos.com, reports that Smith had the opportunity to line up opposite DeMarcus Ware in practice last week. Smith did not look out of place on the outside opposite the future Hall of Fame player.
During minicamp, Smith has showed good first-step explosion at the snap. He does a good job of anticipating when to make his move, and Smith can jar his opponent quickly with his strong hands.
Smith has good length and athleticism to make plays around the corner. He’s adept at hand fighting and has multiple moves to get after the passer.
When the pads come on in training camp, we’ll see if Smith can continue to build off his opportunities. The team may need him to play more if linebacker Von Miller is not fully healthy at the beginning of the regular season.
Quinton Carter Is Working His Way Back
The team would get a huge boost to the secondary if Quinton Carter can stay healthy this season. Mike Klis, from The Denver Post, reports that Carter is taking advantage of his long-waited return.
According to Klis, Carter received all the reps with the team's base defense Thursday, June 12. He has been getting regular reps with the first-string nickel defense during minicamp.
Carter missed most of the last two seasons while recovering from a knee injury, but he is trying to make a comeback in 2014.
He’s a talented player who can line up at strong safety if T.J. Ward moves up to play nickel linebacker on passing downs. Carter is known as a big hitter, and he gives the team another intimidating presence in the third level of the defense.
Carter also has the athleticism to line up at free safety if necessary. His speed and change-of-direction ability seem to be back now that he’s finally healthy this offseason. Carter also has a nose for the ball and can pick off incoming passes, as he showed in back-to-back games in the 2011 NFL playoffs.
This versatility and his instincts make Carter a valuable asset for the defense. His talent has never been a question, but Carter must stay healthy to show the Broncos’ patience with him paid off.
Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.