The Broncos are hoping the second time is the charm with WR contracts
In July of 2015, the Broncos signed Demaryius Thomas to a five-year contract extension worth $70 million, with $43.5 million guaranteed.
In September of 2016, the Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders to a three-year contract extension worth $33 million, with $27 million guaranteed.
On the surface, the two deals made sense. DT was coming off three straight seasons in which he amassed 297 catches for 4,483 yards and 35 touchdowns. Sanders’ first two seasons in Denver resulted in 177 catches for 2,539 yards and 15 TDs.
What did all that success have in common? Peyton Manning was the quarterback. Although, in fairness to both DT and Sanders, they maintained pretty good production in Year One after PFM. DT went for 90 catches, 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, while Sanders hauled in 79 passes for 1,032 yards and five scores.
But, the wheels were in motion. The numbers declined after Manning and they kept declining. Thomas only spent one more full season in Denver before being traded to Houston. Sanders had two more years here-failing to surpass 875 yards receiving in either season-before going to San Francisco.
The common denominators there? Broncos quarterbacks were average at best.
That is when I formed my everlasting and unshakeable belief that wide receivers play a dependent position. In my humble opinion, great quarterbacks make below average receivers average and average receivers above average. Conversely, that same great receiver becomes average with an average QB and the average receiver goes back to being below average.
Which brings us to the Broncos’ signings of Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton. When I first heard about the deals my initial thought was at least they weren’t as big as the DT and Sanders’ deals. Then, I looked closer.
Sutton got four years and $61 million, with $35 million guaranteed, and Patrick three years and $30 million, with $18 million guaranteed. Granted, salary caps are higher now than then but still, those deals aren’t too far off from what DT and Sanders got, and no offense to Sutton and Patrick, they haven’t come close to accomplishing in this league what the other two had.
I question the wisdom of these deals. We’ve already established wide receivers play a dependent position. Sutton and Patrick have been the two best receivers on a team this year that is 21st in scoring at a whopping 20.0 points per game. They haven’t made that much of an impact because (all together now!) the Broncos haven’t had the kind of quarterback you need to get the most out of these guys who play a dependent position.
If by some magical happenstance an Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson lands here next season, then the Broncos will have the kind of QB who makes receivers better than they really are. No doubt, Sutton and Patrick would flourish with a QB like that but a lesser-paid receiver would also shine while allowing the Broncos to use their salary cap money to address other parts of the team.
Look, I don’t hate these signings. I just don’t love them. That said, I do see some value for where the Broncos are now, which is much different than where this team was when they inked DT and Sanders to their deals.
The Broncos haven’t had many good players around here the last five years. They need more good players and Patrick and Sutton are good players.
Both Sutton and Patrick represent organizational wins. Patrick as an undrafted free agent, Sutton as a second-round pick. It’s a lift to everyone from the front office on down when players like these succeed and get paid.
New general manager George Paton is trying to build a new culture and part of those dollars were spent with the idea that two guys who are liked and respected like Sutton and Patrick who got rewarded will go a long way towards building a culture where if you work hard and produce as a Denver Bronco-you will get paid.
Finally, it’s a hint as to what Paton will try and do here. Much like Minnesota, where the Vikings were big on drafting and developing, Paton is going to try and build a similar model here and that is predicated on re-signing your own guys rather than needing to go find replacements in free agency. Look at what Paton has already done. Re-signing Justin Simmons and now Sutton and Patrick. In many ways it’s the anti-Elway way of negotiating, and I for one, like that.