ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There have been many moments since the Denver Broncos convened for their first on-field practices in May, when Demaryius Thomas could be seen talking to rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton about some of the finer points of the work to be done as an NFL wide receiver.
Thomas would discuss and demonstrate and the practices would go on.
And Tuesday, after eight-and-a-half seasons, 125 regular-season games, a Super Bowl ring, 662 catches and 60 touchdowns, it became official that Thomas had done his best to train his replacements. The Broncos shipped their longest-tenured player to the Houston Texans, just hours before the trade deadline.
The Broncos sent Thomas as well as a seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft to the Texans in exchange for a fourth- and a seventh-round pick, in the 2019 draft.
“We’re going to lose a little bit," said Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway. “But where we can make it up is with the youth, the young guys and getting them experience as this year continues to go. I didn’t think that [the trade] eliminated our ability to compete and hopefully have a better second half than we’ve had in the first half and win some football games."
Asked if he believed moving Thomas, a former team captain and a well-respected player in the locker room, would have an impact on the team in the coming weeks, Elway said:
“You never know. ... Personally I think the young guys are ready to step up behind him and fill that void. So with that, as well as the value we got, we felt that it was important to make a move."
Elway said the Broncos “were not hell bent" on trading Thomas, but the bottom line is they simply want Sutton to play more. And sitting at 3-5 at the season’s halfway point, Elway said the time is now.
Sutton leads the Broncos wide receivers with a 19.1 yards-per-catch average and has already proven himself to be a difficult matchup for opposing defensive backs, especially in contested-pass situations. Recently Broncos coach Vance Joseph summed up the reason to throw the ball Sutton’s way with “it’s either a big play down the field or a penalty on the guy who’s covering him."
“Courtland’s played very, very well, and Tim Patrick played very well last week, and Emmanuel [Sanders] is obviously playing very well too," Elway said. “We thought this would give Courtland a chance to get out there and play more and be a bigger part of it because we think he’s ready to go."
Sutton, who is fifth on the team in receptions (17), third in yards receiving (324) to go with a touchdown, has averaged 47 snaps per game this season while Thomas has averaged 51 per game and Sanders has averaged 58 snaps a game. Tuesday Elway said the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Sutton offered a player similar in physical style as well as role in the offense as Thomas.
Hamilton, as well as Patrick, are two other players the Broncos want to see more of down the stretch. Hamilton is currently recovering from a sprained MCL he suffered in the Broncos’ Week 7 win over the Arizona Cardinals, while Patrick has played 60 snaps all season, 19 of those this past Sunday in Kansas City.
“With them coming on like they’ve come on ... we just felt we make that up, we make the loss up," Elway said. “It may not be right away, but eventually the youth cover that up."
Thomas had seen the train coming as it were. After Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs he said the odds of him being traded were “50-50’’ and said Monday they might even be higher than that after he had a night to think about it.
Elway said he met with Thomas on Tuesday. "It was hard, it’s always hard," Elway said of the conversation -- but what the Broncos could get for Thomas now in compensation made the trade a reality.
Thomas had one year left on his current contract, but his future with the Broncos after this season was decidedly uncertain because he was set to count $17.533 million against the salary cap next season.
"... We felt the value was there ... we got the value we thought was fair, and that was the most important thing," Elway said. "It’s never easy when you trade a guy who’s been a household name here for a long time and who’s done a lot of great things, not only on the football field, but also in the community and is a good man. Plus, it’s a good spot for Demaryius."