The NFL's franchise-tag deadline—an annual opportunity for teams and players alike to cry wolf over contract negotiations—yet again arrived in rather orderly fashion Wednesday. The Broncos and Demaryius Thomas put the last piece into place, agreeing to a reported five-year deal worth $70 million and $43.5 million in guarantees. The only player to receive a franchise tag this year and not sign a contract extension was the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, who was just released from the hospital following his July 4 fireworks mishap.
Thomas's deal wrapped mere minutes after Dez Bryant signed a near-identical offer: five years, $70 million, $45 million guaranteed. Bryant had threatened to sit out into the regular season if he did not receive an acceptable contract by Wednesday's deadline. Thomas had not been as public about his intentions, but reports out of Denver said that he planned to skip at least some or all of training camp.
As is often the case with franchise tag stalemates, though, those worries were all for naught. Three thoughts on Thomas's new deal:
1. No harm, no foul: ESPN reported last week that the NFLPA was investigating possible collusion between the Broncos and Cowboys regarding the contracts of Thomas and Bryant. Now that both have new long-term deals, that possible case likely will fade away alongside the other pre-tag deadline fodder.
All along, the general consensus was that Thomas was waiting on Bryant to reestablish the receiver market. So, the two players winding up with matching years and total dollars should come as little surprise.
The fact that those deals were struck so close together just ahead of the deadline does hint that Dallas and Denver may have bandied about some details between themselves prior to Wednesday. But there's not really any incentive for the NFLPA to press the matter further; Bryant and Thomas each received very fair deals and scored big in guaranteed money—Thomas will receive $35 million guaranteed over the first two seasons of his new contract, according to Troy Renck of The Denver Post.
2. Moving on to Von Miller: Much of Wednesday's franchise tag news will impact Miller in the future. Not only did the Broncos eliminate Thomas as a potential 2016 tag candidate by signing him long-term, but Justin Houston's $101 million deal must have caught Miller's (and his agent's) eye.
Miller, 26, is in the final year of his current deal. He is coming off a 14.0-sack season and has established himself beyond a shadow of a doubt as a premier pass rusher. With the salary cap expected to rise again next season, count on Miller to use Houston's deal as a starting point for his own demands. Miller almost certainly will ask to beat that $101 million figure; Houston's $52.5 million guaranteed will be a target, too.
The Broncos' plan of attack beyond this season is still to be determined, assuming this is indeed Peyton Manning's final season. Will they continue to operate as a Super Bowl favorite or take a slight step back to reload? Either way, they'll move forward with Thomas around for the long haul. And because that contract is on the books, Denver has much more wiggle room when it comes to Miller.
3. Why the franchise tag hubbub is such nonsense: Understandably, players hate suiting up under the franchise tag. They have limited chances to strike long-term contracts once their rookie deals expire, so competing without a safety net should they struggle or suffer an injury has to be rather terrifying.
However, we can assume that players also hate leaving what money they have earned on the table. In the cases of Bryant and Thomas, with the wide receiver franchise tag at $12.8 million for the coming season, they would have forfeited around $750,000 for each week of the regular season they skipped. That's hardly a drop in the bucket, even for multi-millionaires.
In most cases, there is also little incentive for teams to force players into signing those franchise tag tenders without first stepping to the bargaining table. Denver would have been in rough shape at receiver without Thomas, and cutting off talks prematurely is a quick way to ensure you'll have a disgruntled player on your hands.
These things almost always get done, one way or another.