Breaking records can be a double-edged sword at times. While any negative ramification derived from surpassing milestones is a good problem to have, especially if winning is a direct result of the unprecedented production, there are still undesirable road blocks, however minor, that can arise.
For the Denver Broncos, fresh off the most prolific offensive outbreak in the history of the game, securing those weapons responsible for gaining so many yards and scoring so many points last season will be a challenge. For wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, whose identical last names mirrored that of their impact on football games at times in 2013, contract extensions are looming.
Both were big reasons why the Broncos won 13 regular-season games, the AFC West and the AFC conference championship last year. But both are currently slated for free agency next offseason. Attempting to re-resign the two is a no-brainer. Deciding how much to pay in order to secure them is the dilemma.
The agents of Thomas the receiver and Thomas the tight end, in an effort to milk the Broncos’ record-setting offensive output for all its worth, will undoubtedly ask that both players be evaluated and ultimately compensated for how much they’ve produced.
In Demaryius Thomas’ case, after racking up the fourth-most receiving yards and the second-most receiving touchdowns in the entire NFL last season, a contract extension exceeding $12 million annually is expected to be the proposition. In Julius Thomas’ case, after contributing the eighth-most receiving yards among tight ends and the fifth-most receiving touchdowns overall, a contract extension exceeding $7 million annually is thought to be the proposal.
If both asking prices are granted by the Broncos, both pass catchers would be paid top-five money at their respective positions. But are they worthy of that distinction? The aforementioned numbers, of course, bode well for their candidacy, but delving a little deeper than the box score totals makes for an intriguing debate.
The Peyton Manning effect is impossible to ignore. The fact of the matter is, as one of the greatest signal callers of all time, if not the greatest, Manning’s pinpoint accuracy and genius grasp of every nuance of the game inflates the production of his supporting cast.
For pass catchers, opportunities are far more frequent on a Peyton Manning-led attack. Manning’s 659 passing attempts were the most in the NFL in 2013 and the sixth most in the history of the game. Manning’s sheer greatness, which is evident in just about every one of his passing numbers and distinguishable to anyone who watched him operate last season or at any point during his illustrious career, also propels members of Denver’s offense.
Simply put, Manning makes reads, adjustments and passes, routinely, the average NFL quarterback only dreams of. Thus, he elevates the game and, more importantly for the sake of contract talk, production of pass catchers like Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas.
Not to say that neither Thomas is capable in his own right. Nobody just rolls out of bed and produces as much and as consistently as both did in 2013. Manning making it look easy or not, it takes special talents to dominate games like they did on several occasions last year. Both posses rare attributes, particularly a lethal blend of size and speed, that likely ensure continued success regardless of who throws them passes in the future. But take away Manning and replace him with an average or even an above average quarterback, and their production, in all plausibility, wouldn’t have sniffed what it was.
Given his age — he turned 38 in March — Manning isn’t expected to play much longer. It would surprise no one if 2014 was his last hurrah. And if not 2014, then certainly 2015, as expecting Manning to continue playing, much less continue playing at an elite level, into his 40s is a rather optimistic (or pessimistic for rival teams) outlook. Paying both pass catchers as if Manning will always be the one dropping them dimes would likely lead to underachievement down the road.
By all accounts, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas are two supremely talented players capable of producing at a high level with or without Manning. But it can’t be denied that Manning makes both better — perhaps significantly so. And without him — a certainty in the near future — neither will likely be worth the salary they’re probably set to accrue in large part because of him.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.