ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The Denver Broncos have placed their franchise tag on star receiver Demaryius Thomas, guaranteeing him roughly $12.8 million next season and buying them more time to work out a long-term deal.

General manager John Elway used that same tactic before re-signing kicker Matt Prater and left tackle Ryan Clady before training camp in recent years.

“This is another step in our efforts to extend Demaryius’ contract and ensure he remains a Denver Bronco,” Elway said in a statement. “We will continue working toward a long-term agreement with Demaryius, who is a very important part of our team.”

Selected 22nd overall in 2010 out of Georgia Tech, Thomas has made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons with Peyton Manning at quarterback.

Thomas could always signal his displeasure with the move by waiting to sign the tender and skipping offseason workouts that begin the first week of April. If Thomas doesn’t sign a long-term contract, the Broncos could use the franchise tag on him again next year.

This move also makes it more unlikely that Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas will be back in Denver next season.

The Thomases are among Denver’s dozen unrestricted free agents, a group that also includes Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin and Jacob Tamme.

By placing the non-exclusive designation on Thomas, the Broncos also bought more time to see how the Manning era plays out in Denver. Manning is expected to announce soon that he’ll be back for an 18th season and fourth in Denver but with a restructured contract that gives the team more financial flexibility heading into free agency.

Manning is due $19 million in 2015 with a $21.2 million salary cap hit. He has to pass a physical by Thursday, something both he and Elway have said they consider a mere formality.

Thomas set career highs with 111 catches for 1,619 yards in 2014, when he scored 11 times, when he joined Marvin n Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history to post three consecutive seasons with 1,400 or more yards receiving and at least 10 touchdown catches.

Since Manning’s arrival in Denver in 2012, Thomas has caught 297 passes for 4,483 yards and 35 TDs. In that three-year span, Thomas has ranked first in the league in yards receiving, second to Antonio Brown in receptions and second to Dez Bryant in touchdowns.

Last year Thomas said he’d be willing to give the Broncos a “hometown discount” in a long-term contract but he hasn’t specified exactly how much less he’d take to stay with the team that drafted him a few spots ahead of Tim Tebow.

Thomas ranks first in franchise history with 28 100-yard games, including a franchise-best 10 in 2014. He had seven straight 100-yard games, one shy of the NFL record and he set a franchise record with a 226-yard performance against Arizona on Oct. 5, when he also had a 74-yard touchdown that was negated by penalty.

– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer

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