- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- He is the most significant item on the Denver Broncos' offseason to-do list left to be checked off.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the team's unquestioned alpha player at the position, has been designated as the Broncos' franchise player. The formal title brings a one-year, $12.823 million salary for the player the moment he signs it. And it's also the reason Thomas has stayed away from the Broncos' offseason program.
He wants a long-term contract and the Broncos' chief decision-maker, John Elway, wants to make it happen. Now it is all about the Benjamins while the negotiations are watched not only by the team's faithful but also by Thomas' teammates.
"We know it's just part of the business we're in," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We all face it sometimes. … I think we want him to get what he's earned, and I think they're getting closer and closer all the time."
A football team that says it wants to be homegrown, as Elway has said he wants the Broncos to be, can let some free agents walk in a salary-cap world. And the Broncos have let a long list of free agents go in the past two years -- wide receiver Eric Decker, guard Zane Beadles, guard Orlando Franklin, tight end Julius Thomas, safety Rahim Moore and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. All but Knighton were Broncos draft picks.
But if a team wants players to believe it will take care of its own, some of those free agents have to be retained, even if it takes a contract that is among the biggest in the league to do it. And as a team captain who has been named to three Pro Bowls, played hurt and been one of the league's best at his position, Demaryius Thomas is one of those players.
Thomas himself told ESPN.com he considered himself among the league's elite at the position and added, "I hope the Broncos agree." If no long-term deal can be worked out, Thomas also has said he will eventually sign his franchise tender and play the 2015 season "to help us win the Super Bowl."
The Broncos have made enough progress on the deal that they have shipped Thomas the playbook and practice video so he can see the new offense and how the Broncos are installing it. Thomas is also regularly in touch with wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert and quarterback Peyton Manning.
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said this week he is "very confident" a deal will be done by training camp in July and indicated that he traded text messages with Thomas this week. The Broncos have signed the last two players with the franchise tag (Ryan Clady and Matt Prater) to new deals before the start of training camp.
But the Broncos players also have seen the team ask Manning to take a $4 million pay cut. The future Hall of Famer can earn the money back if the Broncos win the Super Bowl this season -- he gets a $2 million bonus for a win in the AFC Championship Game and a $2 million bonus for winning the Super Bowl -- but the idea that the Broncos went to him for the reduction has players thinking any player's salary can be trimmed.
It means Thomas' representatives could try to get as much guaranteed money as possible in the first three years of a new deal. It also means it was noteworthy when Manning said he hoped Thomas got the contract he "deserves."
As Manning put it: "He has played extremely well his first few years of his career, in my opinion has established himself as one of the top receivers in the NFL and, like I said, I want what's best for him. ... Hopefully there's that happy medium for both sides and we can get him in here soon and put that all behind everybody."
Kubiak said he speaks to Elway about the prospects of getting Thomas' deal done "all the time." When Thomas arrives, Kubiak wants to have a plan in place for gauging his conditioning and how much he will initially participate in the team's practices as they move him into the rotation.
"In one regard it is [difficult] and in another regard, you say, ‘Hey, we're only getting that much better,' because he's a great player," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "We're coaching the guys that are here. He's got to deal with what he's got to deal with, and everybody understands that. As far as where we're going, we're coaching the guys, and those guys -- the wideouts -- have done a good job. And when he gets here, I know he'll do a good job. Just watching him on tape, he's a fantastic player and I think he'll pick it up. Everybody will help him and we'll move on from there."
"I hear he's working extremely hard," Kubiak said this week. "… His play speaks for itself. We expect him to be himself and ready to go. I'm just looking forward to it, looking forward to spending time with him, getting going."