With Demaryius Thomas Trade, Are the Broncos Throwing in the Towel on the Season?

Demaryius Thomas is leaving Denver.
Demaryius Thomas is leaving Denver. NFL via YouTube
Following the Broncos' fifth loss of the season on Sunday, October 28, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas told reporters that he felt he had a fifty-fifty chance of getting traded. Sure enough, the Broncos announced on Monday that the perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver is being sent to Houston to play for the Texans.

As part of the deal, Denver is getting back a fourth-round pick and is swapping seventh-round picks with the Texans (the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport first reported the deal). Luckily for Thomas, he won't have to start looking for a house in Houston until next week, since the Broncos are actually hosting the Texans this coming Sunday.

It's hard not to see the move as the Broncos throwing in the towel and entering rebuild mode. The team has been a mess this season, which began with two wins and has devolved with five losses. And the vaunted defense gave up over 200 rushing yards two weeks in a row.

The season started with optimism. This was supposed to be the Broncos' year. The team's smothering defense had been stifling opponents in past seasons, and many fans and pundits thought all that was missing was stability at the quarterback position. Falling into this line of thinking, the organization paid a king's ransom for Case Keenum during the 2018 off-season, hoping that the NFL journeyman quarterback would be the missing ingredient to propel the Broncos back into the playoffs.

Things looked just fine after week two: The Broncos had won two close games against the Seahawks and division-rival Raiders, and fans were just waiting for Keenum to start feeling more comfortable leading the offense.

However, Keenum never clicked with his teammates and has been largely disappointing, already throwing three more interceptions this season than he threw all of last year.

If Keenum had looked good and the Broncos had a winning record, then shipping Thomas to the Texans would have been unthinkable. In that scenario, the Broncos would have been sending draft picks away for one more cog to make a playoff push.

Trading Thomas may not be a death knell to the Broncos' already underwhelming season, but it does indicate that the organization is thinking that the season may be over.

Thomas is owed $14 million in base salary next season. That's a lot for a soon-to-be 31-year-old wide receiver. He put in some great years in Denver, including a championship season, but that's too expensive of a contract for a team with young talent waiting in the wings and a season that has taken a turn for the worst. Plus, the Broncos got a fourth-round pick in return, which is a good exchange for an expensive, aging receiver.

Still, longtime teammates of his, including Von Miller, are upset that their buddy was traded away:
The Broncos plan to honor Thomas's contributions to the franchise with a final gesture when he suits up in a Texans uniform this Sunday in Denver.

Emmanuel Sanders, who is enjoying a career year, now holds the role as the team's unquestioned number-one wide receiver. Courtland Sutton, the Broncos' second-round pick from the 2018 draft, has flashed brilliance at times, and Thomas's move indicates that the organization is sold on Sutton filling in as the number-two wide receiver. Sutton and Thomas are both 6'3", further proving that Sutton may be Thomas 2.0.

Aside from ending Thomas's storied career in Denver, the trade also turns up the temperature of the hot water head coach Vance Joseph is in.

A head coach never wants to enter rebuilding mode, partly because it makes his job more difficult, and because it means that an expiration date is on the horizon. Joseph should be worried, as he has an 8-16 record through one and a half seasons as the team's head coach. Unless he can lead the Broncos to wins in the team's next few games, he may be out of a job soon.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.