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Report: Extending WR Courtland Sutton 'Also a Priority' for Broncos

Courtland Sutton's future in Denver no longer feels certain.

On Friday, the Denver Broncos agreed to terms with fourth-year wide receiver Tim Patrick on a three-year extension. Playing on a restricted free-agent tender, Patrick's new contract is worth $34.5 million and includes $18.5 million guaranteed, per reports. 

While it's a much-deserved extension and good news for the Broncos, fans now question what the future holds for fellow fourth-year wideout Courtland Sutton — who also finds himself in a contract year. 

9NEWS' Mike Klis tried to clarify what seems now like a cloudy horizon for Sutton in a recent tweet. 

"Talked to Broncos GM George Paton. He said Tim Patrick represents everything Broncos want in a core player: Tough, smart, productive. QBs trust him. Locking up Sutton is also a priority," Klis tweeted Friday. 

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Fans wonder why it was Patrick who got re-signed first and without knowing all the behind-the-scenes particulars, it likely comes down to Sutton himself. As a 2018 second-round pick, Sutton earned Pro Bowl honors in Year 2 — producing a 1,200-yard season despite having to catch passes from three different starting quarterbacks. 

The former SMU star then suffered an ACL tear in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign, nixing his third year before it could really get off the ground. The injury hampered Sutton's outlook some, but he's come back this season to play very good football — that is, when Teddy Bridgewater has opted to involve him in the offense. 

Despite being virtually ignored by Bridgewater since Jerry Jeudy returned to the lineup in Week 8, Sutton leads the Broncos in receptions (43) and yards (617) while trailing Patrick for the team-lead in receiving touchdowns (four). When the quarterback goes to him, Sutton usually comes through. 

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Considering that he's been the alpha dog since Emmanuel Sanders was traded in 2019, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that Sutton has rebuffed any overtures made by the Broncos on the topic of an extension. Unless GM George Paton were to make Sutton an offer he couldn't refuse, it wouldn't behoove him to really listen or negotiate in-season because he knows that come the free-agency window, teams will be lining up to roll out the Brinks truck for him. 

If Sutton truly is a priority to Paton, as Klis reports, the most likely outcome here is the Broncos franchise-tagging him in the spring. Tactically, tagging Sutton would give Paton a one-on-one channel to negotiate with the player without having to compete with offers from outside clubs. 

A franchise-tagged Sutton would give the Broncos until July of 2022 to hammer out the details of a true multi-year extension before he'd have to play on the tag by rule. If the two sides were unable to come to terms, Sutton would simply play out 2022 under the tag, but that downside would be having to pay him a fully guaranteed $19.127M — which is what Over The Cap projects the number to be for wideouts next season. 

That's a lot of lettuce to budget to a player at a position that features a log-jam of young talent for the Broncos. But Jeudy and KJ Hamler's contracts won't come up until 2023 at the soonest, so paying Sutton that much for a one-year rental might be a price Paton could live with if push came to shove. 

For now, there's no reason to believe that the Broncos are in any way looking past Sutton. However, as a guy with some draft pedigree and an NFL accolade to his name, the factors for an extension are significantly more complex than for a former undrafted player like Patrick — who still has a relatively low profile despite his consistently excellent production since the 2020 season began. 

Remember, as nice as it would be to keep Sutton in the fold beyond 2021, the Broncos also have to crack the quarterback code and figure out how to pay rush linebacker Bradley Chubb — who's set to return to the club in 2022 on a fifth-year option. 

Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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