Denver Broncos: Off-season Roster Analysis: Wide Receivers (Part 3 of 9)
Demaryius Thomas, 2013 base salary: $836,500:
What a bargain. Thomas erupted onto the scene this season, mostly because he stayed healthy for all 16 games for the first time in his career. Thomas’s talent and skill was never questioned but he couldn’t fully develop his game with a erratic throwing quarterback like Tim Tebow.
Thankfully, Peyton Manning came into town and the rest is history; 94 catches for 1434 yards and 10 touchdowns. Thomas became the Broncos’ biggest weapon and it looks as if that will be the case for quite some time. Moving forward into the off season Thomas remains Denver’s No. 1 receiving option and is under contract through 2014 ($3.275 million in his last year of his rookie deal).
A record contract extension should be on the horizon and I’m sure Peyton Manning will demand the deal goes through. If he remains healthy Thomas can easily be an all-pro wide out for the next decade. Is he on track to become the most decorated pass catcher in Broncos history? Only time will tell but at this moment I would say he is.
Future: Will remain the No.1 receiver in Denver as long as he stays out of the trainers' room. He should be a frequent participant in the Pro Bowl.
Eric Decker, 2013 base salary: $575,000:
Some games Decker just took over as the go to guy, especially when the coverage was focused on containing Thomas. His hands are more consistent than any other receiver on Denver’s unit. While a white guy that wears 87 on his jersey reminds fans of Ed McCaffery, Decker is a better possession receiver than that of his elder , but the toughness across the middle, the hands, blocks, and consistency will lead to comparisons to the ex-Bronco great. Arguably Eric Decker and Julio Jones can be seen as the top No. 2’s in the entire league. John Elway and the front office need to start thinking about how to clear enough cap space so that they can secure Decker after the 2013 season.
Manning will insist upon his future with the team and hopefully the Broncos respond with a contract that is friendly enough where in 2014, when Thomas’s contract expires, they will have the money available to pay Thomas like a true No.1 wide out. While it is too soon to tell some could make the argument that keeping Decker in Denver is more of a safe bet than the Broncos resigning Thomas a year later, when they will most likely have to commit more money than what the team decides to offer Decker following next season.
Future: Best No.2 option in the AFC. Will remain Manning’s most reliable check down option at least through 2013.
Brandon Stokley, 2013 base salary: Free agent:
The soon to be 37 year old slot receiving great stated to the Denver Post that, “I definitely would still love to play. I still love to compete and I feel this is the only thing that I do halfway good, so why stop now?” Stokley looked good as new in his return to Denver this season and it is nearly guaranteed that he will suit up for the Broncos for at least one more campaign. His experience is vital to Denver’s passing game and his friendship with Manning was a key reason that the quarterback was interested in signing with the franchise. Stokley made upwards of $1 million last season, he should return on a similar team friendly one year deal.
Future: slot option for the offense for the 2013 season.
Matt Willis, 2013 base salary: Free agent:
The hardworking former UCLA basketball player is one of the best special teams player on the team and stepped in on offense on occasion. He can return kickoffs and punts which adds value to him in the market. He is one of the better gunners in the NFL, which will most likely command around $1 million a season. The best special teamer on the Broncos is David Bruton, who the Broncos are more likely to retain in a more lucrative contract than Willis. Mike McCoy might jump onto Willis because of his familiarity with the offense. He would upgrade the coverage units in San Diego as well if signed.
Future: Don’t think he will be back unless the Broncos see him as a bigger contributing option in the passing game. His value is on special teams.
Andre Caldwell, 2013 base salary: $900,000:
Caldwell was a healthy scratch for more than half the games this season while only catching one pass all year. He might be the fastest player on the offense and hopefully with one year under his belt in the system he will take Matt Willis’s spot as the No. 4 wide out. Caldwell once caught 51 passes in a season with the Bengals and is very capable of making plays. His hands are suspect at times. Wither Manning and new offensive coordinator Adam Gase think he should be on the field is up in the air. He will compete in the off-season to be active on game day. He also can return kickoffs.
Future: will return and will compete to replace Matt Willis as No.4 receiver on the depth chart.
Trindon Holliday, 2013 base salary: $480,000:
Holliday brought an element to the Broncos return game not seen since the late 1990’s. He initiated much momentum during his returns for touchdowns against Cincinnati and Carolina. He could have been responsible for the Broncos advancing to the AFC title game had Rahim Moore not embarrassingly whiffed at Joe Flacco’s 70 yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones (among other mistakes). His two returns for touchdowns were electrifying. He will return to claim his spot returning both kickoffs and punts. His size at 165 pounds limits his use on offense but the Broncos should be expected to draw up a few favorable screen passes for him. He needs to work on securing the ball more as Jim Leonhard entered the game with more reliable hands in some situations. Now that he has inspired fear in the NFL with his blazing speed, teams might punt the ball out of bounds or squib kickoffs. Giving Manning a shorter field. Rare asset.
Future: main Denver return man and weapon with field position.
Greg Orton, 2013 base salary: Unknown, signed future contract following 2012 playoffs:
The former Arena Football League star spent most of the season on the practice squad. He showed promise and good size in the preseason. He will compete in camp for a roster spot.
Future: Will vie for a spot on the 53 man roster. Chances are slim unless injuries plague team in the preseason.
Denver might have the best wide receiver duo in the NFL and Brandon Stokely is still one of the better slot guys. After that trio however there is a great talent fall off. Luckily the team didn't have to see who would step up had injuries plagued the receiving core. With big money owed to Decker and Thomas over the next two off-seasons, the Broncos would be wise to sign or draft insurance.
Manning wants smart pass catchers which narrows the market. Andre Caldwell has experience and great speed, but if his hands become an issue he might never get past No. 4 on the depth chart. Tridon Holliday is a return stud but his role in the offense is limited.
Former Colt and BYU standout Austin Collie has been terribly plagued with multiple concussions and a ruptured patella tendon during his career. He was a Manning favorite which might be enough for him to earn a contract. He would have to prove he can be healthy with the Broncos. But its a high risk sign.
Other free agents such as Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Brandon Gibson, and Devin Aromashodu. All have Manning qualities; hands, experience, and smarts. Either would be a wise investment. St.Louis's Amendola will be coveted by many teams but his signing in Denver would give the Broncos a deadly four receiver set. He will most likely request upwards of $5 million+ a year, which lowers the chances of him coming to the mile high city.
Edelman is a quick slot option that could be cheap. A 2 yr/ $4 million deal would be reasonable and adds great hands to secure punts should Holliday struggle securing them.
Another option is the draft, where the Broncos are likely to use a pick on a developmental pass catching prospect who can take his time learning the offense. Should Decker or Thomas walk away there would be a youngster waiting in the wings.
Either way Denver needs to upgrade the depth behind Black and Decker.