By Chad Jensen
DENVER (247 SPORTS) – We heard the buzz for the last week or more and on Tuesday, John Elway proved that there was some fire at the source of all that smoke swirling out of the Mile High City, as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was traded to the Houston Texans a couple hours before the 2 p.m. deadline.
The Broncos also sent a seventh-rounder along with Thomas to Houston in exchange for a fourth-round pick. It was great value for the Broncos, considering that Thomas is about to turn 31.
As I wrote earlier on Tuesday, the move signifies the youth movement currently taking place at Dove Valley, but it also makes Emmanuel Sanders Denver’s defacto No. 1 wideout. Courtland Sutton figures to be the most immediate beneficiary of Thomas’ departure, but a perusal of the stat sheet reveals that Sanders was already Denver’s top wideout, but nominally, the title is officially his now.
“I guess it’s my turn to be the No. 1 wide receiver for the Denver Broncos and I accept the challenge,” Sanders told ‘Pritchard and Cecil’ during an impromptu appearance on 104.3 the FAN on Tuesday.
Sanders had just received the news that his close friend and teammate of the last almost five years had been traded, so he was naturally in a kind of muted mood. The FAN did not frankly expect to have Sanders in studio at such a fortuitous time, and the Broncos PR department likely rues the serendipity that put Sanders in the building as the Thomas trade news was breaking.
Mike Pritchard, a former CU Buff and first-round wideout taken by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1991 NFL draft, talked about the Thomas trade being a part of the “business” side of the pro game, and pointed to Sanders possibly having to make a “business decision” with regard to his future in Denver.
Then the veteran radio host addressed the elephant in the room, asking Sanders, “Do you want to continue to be a Denver Bronco?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Sanders said. “We’re going to see. Obviously, I work my butt off, so we’re going to see. All I can focus on right now is the Houston Texans and trying to win that game.”
Sanders’ response left many at KFAN, and those listening, scratching their head. Does Sanders really want out of Denver?
Or was Sanders’ ambivalence and “we’ll see” comment more of a response to the fact that the trade deadline had not yet passed when this conversation was taking place? It’s hard to say for sure.
My guy tells me that Sanders’ response to Pritchard’s query was more that of extreme disappointment that his teammate had been traded, and perhaps carried an envious tone that Thomas was dealt to a team with a hot young QB in Deshaun Watson.
Sanders, a self-professed ‘diva’, doesn’t like to lose but receivers like him can usually be placated by getting fed the football a lot, which Case Keenum most certainly has done this year. Sanders has received 65 targets through eight games, hauling in 50 receptions for 660 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also rushed for one score and thrown one touchdown pass of his own.
That’s a massive step up from even last season, in which Sanders appeared in 12 games and received 94 targets — but was only able to haul in 47 catches for 555 yards and two touchdowns. That stat alone argues on behalf of Keenum that he’s been at least a slight upgrade over the QB carousel the Broncos fielded the previous two years.
But with 10 interceptions and five losses through eight games, Keenum has still been an undeniable disappointment. It’s not much of a compliment to say Keenum is slightly better than the Siemian/Osweiler/Lynch triumvirate at the end of the day.
And when Sanders arrived in Denver, he didn’t sign up for the QB purgatory he’s dealt with for the last two and a half seasons. He signed up for Peyton Manning.
Sanders might want out of Denver. His heart’s desire might be to play with a more prolific QB on a winning team, but he might also be more than happy to accept the money the Broncos are paying him to be the No. 1 receiver in Denver.
The truth is, it’s a moot point. The trade deadline has passed, and Sanders is under contract through the 2019 season. However, if the Broncos continue to lose and finish with a losing record, missing the playoffs for the third-straight year, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Sanders try and force his way out of Denver.
And if the ‘diva’ wideout does in fact try to strong-arm this front office into dealing him when the 2019 offseason rolls around, the good news is, Denver is more than equipped to move forward without Sanders.
With Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick rounding out an impressive trio of young wideouts, the team would not lack for play-making ability in the pass game. And as far as compensation on a possible Sanders trade in-future, the Broncos would ostensibly be able to get at least the mid-round pick they netted on the Thomas trade, if not more.
That’s a possible problem for ‘future’ John Elway. ‘Present’ John Elway has to worry about keeping this team from completely sliding off the rails with half the season left to be played.