In one month, Demaryius Thomas could become one of the richest wide receivers in the NFL. But today, he's not thinking about a potential payday.
"Money really don't make me," he says.
You might dismiss that as little more than a convenient deflection – after all, next week Thomas' team, the Denver Broncos, could place a franchise tag on their star wideout, which would net him something in the neighborhood of $13 million per year. He might work out an extension with organization, or even test the NFL's free agent waters, a move that could result in a record-setting deal for the 27-year-old Pro Bowler. Either way, the money matters, and he'll see plenty of it.
But truthfully, Thomas has other things on his mind: Namely, attempting to put his family back together again. When he was 11, police raided his home in Montrose, Georgia, and arrested his mother and grandmother on federal drug charges. His mother was sentenced to 24 years in prison, while his grandmother – who had prior drug convictions – received a life sentence. Though he became a superstar, Thomas has felt incomplete without his family by his side. But there is hope that his mother might see release this year, and once his new contract is signed, he intends to build a legal defense for his grandmother.
"Hopefully this year my mom will at least get out and get in a halfway house and come home," Thomas says. "My main thing is trying to get her and granny out of prison, and whatever the contract is, of course it will help. I just want my granny to be happy again – it's been a long time."
So you can understand why the sudden changes in Denver – a new head coach, an uncertain future for Peyton Manning, the fates of other potential Broncos' free agents like Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin and Terrance Knighton – don't really phase Thomas all that much. He grew up in chaos, and quickly learned that he cannot worry about things that are outside of his control.
"I don't really think about how much I'm going to make," he says. "I'm just blessed and happy to have my feet on the ground."
Still, logic dictates Thomas stands to make a lot. He's the only receiver in the NFL to have at least 90 catches, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons – and yet, he makes less than Donnie Avery, Dexter McCluster, Tavon Austin and 51 other wide receivers. There's a chance Thomas' new deal could come close to the $113 million mega-contracts signed by Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. The only thing standing in his way is the notion that his on-field success has more to do with the man throwing him the ball – Peyton Manning – than his own abilities. Not surprisingly, Thomas does not agree with that assessment.
"You always hear people say, 'Peyton Manning made me,' but I can't say that. I learned a lot from Peyton. He's the best quarterback I ever played with. I can say he helped me out a lot – it's just hard to say 'Peyton Manning did this,'" Thomas says. "He would never say, 'Oh, I made him better,' because Peyton Manning makes everybody better. He wants the best for everybody and when you're playing with him, you want to step your game up. I think everybody makes each other better."
But Manning didn't make anybody better in the Broncos' 24-13 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts last month. The 38-year-old quarterback went 26-of-46 for 211 yards and one touchdown, but looked rattled and rusty. That performance inevitably led to questions about his future with the franchise, and made Thomas' potential free agency even more of an issue.
"I can't really speak on Peyton's part," Thomas says. "You have to talk to Peyton on that one. They came out in that game and they got the best of us. We had opportunities and we just didn't make 'em. I didn't have my best game, I had a couple drops – it's hard to point fingers at anybody or any particular spot because as a group, we just didn't play our best that day."
Soon after the loss, Denver fired coach John Fox and brought in former coordinator Gary Kubiak to replace him. It will be virtually impossible for the team to keep all its impending free agents, unless Manning retires – a move that would open up $19 million in cap space. But obviously, there are downsides there. Thomas says he hasn't received any indication from GM John Elway about whether his deal is a priority for the team ("It's hard to say right now," he says), but again, he's not worried about his future. The money will come. Thomas learned long ago that the only thing he can control is today.
"I don't wanna stress about what I'm gonna sign or when it's gonna happen. I just go on with my life, I live blessed and I just get ready for the next season. I'm gonna be playing. I just don't know where yet." he says. "Whatever happens happens. At this point all I can think about is myself. That's all I got control of."