The designation will mean the Broncos' captain will get a one-year, guaranteed deal for the average of the top five salaries at his position. This year that figure will be just less than $12.8 million. The salary cap charge would be $12.797 million and the deal would be fully guaranteed the moment Thomas signs it.
Teams could use the franchise player or transition player tags beginning on Feb. 16 and the deadline to file the paperwork to the league to use the tag is 4 p.m. ET on Monday.
"If we can't get something done, yeah, we'll tag Demaryius," Elway said in Indianapolis at the scouting combine. "Our goal is to get something done with Demaryius ... that market is changing, that wide receiver market is changing, too, but the bottom line is we want Demaryius to be a Bronco."
The Broncos and Thomas' representatives have had the framework of a five-year deal on the table at times over the past year. Elway said he expected Thomas, as well as the Broncos' other potential free agents, to see what the price tags would be at their respective positions once free agency opened. Thomas would command a contract worthy of his status at the position.
Calvin Johnson has the largest contract for any wide receiver in the league, a seven-year, $113 million deal he signed in 2012 that is significantly back-loaded and includes $48.8 million in guaranteed money. Andre Johnson signed a seven-year, $67.8 million deal in 2010, while Percy Harvin signed a six-year, $64.2 million deal ($14.5 million guaranteed) in 2013 and Mike Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal ($30 million guaranteed) in 2013.
Free agency officially begins March 10, and teams can begin to negotiate with prospective free agents on March 7. Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are the Broncos' highest-profile players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.
When the Broncos file the paperwork to the league, it is expected Demaryius Thomas will get the “non-exclusive'' franchise player tag. That means Demaryius Thomas could solicit offers from other teams and the Broncos would then have the right to match.
The Broncos would almost certainly match any offer Thomas would receive. And any team that would potentially sign Thomas would have to make a contract big enough to deter the Broncos, a tall order, and also have to send the Broncos their next two first-round picks.
Most players who receive the franchise tag would prefer a long-term deal, that would include more guaranteed money. They often do not sign the franchise player tender until the deadline, which by league rules this year is July 15.
After July 15 teams cannot sign those designated as franchise players to multi-year extensions until after the last regular-season game of the upcoming season. So, it is expected Thomas would miss the team's offseason program until he either signs a multi-year extension or July 15 arrives since his attendance, and the team's desire to have him working in what is a new playbook, constitutes his most significant leverage.
Elway has said he could see a scenario where Demaryius Thomas got the franchise player tag and then the two sides reached an agreement at some point after free agency when the contracts started to come in.
The other free agent, marquee receiver who has had comparable production is Dez Bryant. The Dallas Cowboys are also expected to use the franchise player tag on him . Other notable receivers set to hit the open market are Jeremy Maclin, Michael Crabtree and Randall Cobb.
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.
Demaryius Thomas has had three consecutive seasons with at least 92 receptions, 1,430 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. He is also 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.
Hypothetically the Broncos could also use a franchise player tag on Thomas in 2016 as well if no long-term deal were to be worked out. And with the salary cap having taken an expected jump from $133 million per team in 2014 to an expected $143 million in the coming season, teams would be more inclined to look at that as an option.
But Elway has repeatedly said; “We want to get something done with Demaryius and we would like to get that worked out as soon as we can so it makes sense for everybody.''