"Even though Julius had a tremendous year for us, he's only (played) 23 games," Elway, Denver's general manager, told USA Today on Wednesday. "We want Julius to be a Bronco for a long time and we think he has tremendous upside, but he's not at that level."
At first blush, this might seem like a shot across Thomas' bow. In reality, Elway isn't saying anything Thomas doesn't already know. Thomas was an extremely productive tight end last year, finishing with 65 receptions for 788 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games.
Graham has been at the very top of his profession for the last three years, however. Right now, only Rob Gronkowski can claim to be an equal at the position.
Thomas, a fourth-round pick in 2011, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Elway said the team will continue to negotiate with both Julius Thomas and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (also entering his contract year) into training camp. Elway said the Broncos want something done with the Thomases by the second week of preseason "one way or another."
Julius is in an interesting position. He can either work out a deal right now that might pay him closer to, say, Martellus Bennett money, or he can bet on himself and hope to replicate or better his 2013 production.
If Thomas does that, the conversation changes.