ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Monday is the first day teams in the NFL can formally designate an impending unrestricted free agent as a franchise player.
While the Denver Broncos would certainly like to have a long-term deal worked out with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas at some point -- they have had the framework of a five-year on the table at times over the past year -- the team has been prepared to place the franchise player tag on Thomas in the coming days.
Teams can designate a franchise player at any point between Monday and March 6. The designated franchise player gets a one-year, guaranteed contract for the average of the five largest contracts at the player's position. Last season that franchise player salary at wide receiver was $12.312 million and it is expected to rise this year.
Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are the team’s highest-profile players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.
Since the start of the 2011 season Demaryius Thomas is second in the NFL with 28 100-yard receiving games in the regular season and postseason combined, including 10 100-yard games this past season. Seven of those came in consecutive weeks. His 226 yards in the Broncos’ Oct. 5 win over the Arizona Cardinals is a single-game franchise record and his 1,619 yards receiving this past season also set a single-season franchise record.
After a rookie season slowed by injuries -- he suffered a fractured bone in his foot in a pre-combine workout in early 2010 -- Thomas had a 32-catch season in 2011 as the Broncos ran a read-option offense with Tim Tebow at quarterback. But since Peyton Manning's arrival in 2012, Thomas has played himself into the league's elite at the position.
Demaryius 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 -- Marvin Harrison and Hall of Famer Jerry Rice are the others.
General manager John Elway said after the season that he would like to get Demaryius Thomas “locked up and back here and we’ll keep working on that."
Manning has called Thomas “a tough, tough matchup for any defense, a guy who can make any play, run any route, turn small plays into big ones."
For his part Demaryius Thomas has said he believes “it will all work out," and when asked if he would like to be back, he consistently has answered, “Of course, we’ll just see how it all plays out."
Just days before the Super Bowl, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was the Broncos' coach when the team selected Thomas with the 22nd pick of the 2010 draft, spoke of Thomas’ progress as a player.
"He deserves the credit for what he's done with that," McDaniels said. "I'll say this -- he's a tremendous young man, and after the games we had an opportunity to play I've had the opportunity to have a brief exchange with him and those are always important for a coach and a player. And he's been unbelievable when I've had an opportunity to talk to him.
"He's obviously made himself a great player," McDaniels added. "He's so much more versatile now than when I had him that first year. He's inside, he's outside, he's running different routes, he can stop and start, he can go down the field, he's a tremendous run-after-catch player, which we knew that he would be when we got him … I also think he's been an unselfish guy. He's played in an unbelievable offense the last few years there and you can't get them all, but you don't see him not blocking in the run game and doing all those other things too."