Hanging from the side of Broncos Stadium at Mile High is a large banner of Demaryius Thomas in his familiar No. 88.
The banner was there to recognize the franchise’s second-leading receiver. Now it’s there to honor his career with the Denver Broncos.
The rumors of the past couple of weeks were justified – Thomas was traded ahead of Tuesday’s NFL deadline. Denver sent their All-Pro wide receiver to Houston for a fourth round pick in the 2019 draft, the team announced Tuesday. The clubs also swapped seventh-round picks for next spring's draft.
Thomas had been the subject of trade rumors for a couple of weeks, and his departure is an indication the Broncos probably won't make a second-half run to a playoff berth. It also means more snaps for promising rookie Courtland Sutton, who has come on over the past couple of weeks.
“We thought that with the young guys behind him that we could make up for the space that he would leave,” president of football operations/general manager John Elway told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “We got the value that we thought was fair, and that was the most important thing.”
In a twist, Houston is in town to play the Broncos on Sunday afternoon, with Thomas wearing a Texans uniform. Fans will get a chance to say goodbye to a quiet but talented player who was with the team for valleys and peaks and valleys again.
“With how Demaryius has carried himself since he’s been here—I think it’s an end for him and us,” Elway said. “I think, as I told him, he’ll always be a Bronco. It ends his career here, but not his career in the NFL. Look at is as the fact that eventually the Broncos will be reunited with Demaryius.”
Thomas signed a five-year, $70-million extension in 2015 and is under contract through next season with a cap hit of nearly $14 million. Dealing him gives Denver some much-needed space heading into 2019. He had 36 catches for 402 yards and three touchdowns this season.
In eight-plus seasons, all with Denver, Thomas has 665 receptions for 9,055 yards and 60 touchdowns.
The move was not a popular one with Denver players. Fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders said Tuesday on 1043 The Fan: "It’s tough. That’s like my brother. For five years. I went over and hung out with him. I’m not happy about that but it’s part of the business."
Linebacker Von Miller tweeted this:
Thomas was the longest-tenured player on the Broncos after being taken in the first round of the 2010 draft. He played on two Super Bowl teams, winning a ring in 2015, and was part of one of the biggest receptions in team history. His catch-and-run on the first play of overtime in the 2011 divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh went for 80 yards and a TD.
“He made so many big plays,” Elway said. “Obviously, the Pittsburgh one is the biggest one I think that stands out that we all remember, but he was a guy that was very productive and consistent for a long, long time, and was healthy most of the time. He was a guy that we could rely on.”
Thomas was a quiet leader in wide receivers corps, and that void will be tough to fill. It stands to reason that Sanders would become even more of a voice among the young pass catchers. Sanders is in his ninth year and fifth with Denver, but the experience is thin after that.
Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton (who is injured) are rookies and Tim Patrick is essentially a rookie. The rest of the unit includes Isaiah McKenzie, who has been used mainly a returner, is also banged up. River Cracraft is on the practice squad and could be promoted.
With the Broncos headed for a third straight season of not reaching the playoffs, Elway said the team is turning to its youth at wide receiver.
“We just felt that we make that up,” he said. “We make the loss up. It may not be right away, but eventually the youth will cover that up.”