ENGLEWOOD, Colo.— If you didn’t know any better, you might just think Emmanuel Sanders is a Denver Broncos lifer.
He’s entering just his third season in the Mile High City, but Sanders has already become a favorite among so many.
His coaches love him for his attitude and effort, the fans love him for his gritty play and flashy smile, and his teammates love him for the leadership he brings to their locker room.
Apparently, John Elway loves him, too.
On Wednesday, the Broncos’ general manager and vice president of football operations, signed Sanders to a long-awaited, much talked-about contract extension.
Reportedly, the deal is a 3-year agreement worth a total of $33 million, including an eye-popping $27 million in guarantees.
That’s a hefty chunk of change. In fact, it’s the sixth most guaranteed money of any receiver in the NFL.
There’s no question that Sanders has earned that type of raise. Since joining the Broncos in 2014, Sanders has reeled in 177-catches for 2,539-yards and 15-touchdowns.
2016 was set to be the final year on Sanders’ initial 3-year deal, and in reality, the 29-year-old probably could have gotten significantly more had he tested the open market.
“I’m not trying to break the bank,” Sanders told the Denver Post‘s Nicki Jhabvala in July. “I want to be here. But, I also want a fair deal, and I want a fair deal for the production I’ve been putting out.”
Sanders is certainly getting a fair deal. It sets him up to be the highest paid No. 2 receiver in the NFL.
However, it can be argued that the deal doesn’t make sense for Denver.
Under the regime of Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak, the Broncos are trying to establish themselves as a run-heavy, defense first football team. During the offseason, they made outside linebacker Von Miller the highest paid defensive player in the history of the sport.
Elway also signed running back C.J. Anderson to a 4-year $18-million deal that, in theory, will make the 25-year-old the focus of the Broncos’ offense.
For a team so intent on building around defense and the running game, they’re spending a heck of a lot of money on receivers. Potentially more money, in fact, than any other team in the NFL.
Prior to the signing of this deal, the Broncos ranked third in spending at the position behind the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears. But, they were third on the list by only about $1.75 million.
Between No. 1 receiver Demaryius Thomas’ $14 million a year deal, and the figures being reported on Sanders’ new contract, Denver may be well spending more than anyone else at the position. Pending the release of further contract details, the Broncos could now be spending about $28.6 million on wide receivers, roughly 20 percent of their total salary cap.
That’s more than 12 times what the Broncos spend on quarterbacks.
On the other hand, their low cap number under center is exactly what allows the Broncos to make this deal work, and it’s one of the reasons why it could pay dividends for them.
As of now, the Broncos are spending only $2.261 million on their three signal-callers, starter Trevor Siemian, rookie Paxton Lynch, and third string veteran Austin Davis.
The decision to not spend money on higher priced passers, including former Broncos Brock Osweiler and Mark Sanchez, saved them $17 million and $4.5 million, respectively. Having that money available made a huge impact on Elway’s ability to get a deal done with Sanders.
Signing up one of the NFL’s most dynamic and hard working receivers for three more years makes all the sense in the world for the Broncos, but whether spending that kind of money in one place is a smart decision is up for debate.
The Broncos, though, don’t seem to have many qualms about Sanders’ new deal.
“Emmanuel has proven himself as a great player and one of the most productive receivers in this league,” Elway said in a statement. “He plays with intensity, and we love the way he competes. We’re thrilled Emmanuel is going to be a Bronco for many more years to come.”