While it is difficult to predict the future, it would make sense for both the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos to move on from their leading pass catchers from 2017.
The Raiders owe Michael Crabtree over $7.5 million next season, per Spotrac, despite the fact he had just 58 catches for 618 yards and was essentially suspended two games (got ejected very early against Denver).
Crabtree was also rarely on the field late in the season. It is hard to tell who’s doing that was, Crabtree or the coaching staff, but it seems like Crabtree was wearing thin in Oakland.
Maybe that changes under Jon Gruden, but Crabtree can be gone without any cap penalty. With major holes on the team, Reggie McKenzie and Gruden might want to spend the $7.5 million dollars elsewhere to help upgrade the defense or even the wide receiver position.
Division games are always the most important and Crabtree has not performed well against Raiders AFC West rivals shown by the stats below.
5 games vs. Broncos: 15 receptions, 147 yards, 0 touchdowns, 9.8 yards per catch
6 games vs. Chiefs: 24 receptions, 194 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.1 yards per catch
6 games vs. Chargers: 29 receptions, 278 yards, 5 touchdowns, 9.6 yards per catch
17 games vs. AFC West: 68 receptions, 619 yards, 8 touchdowns, 9.1 yard per catch
Aside from Crabtree’s touchdown output against the Chargers, his numbers are horrible against the division. In those 17 games, which is more than a full season, he has averaged just 36.4 yards per game.
If Crabtree is let go, Gruden and company will need to find a new wide receiver to pair up with Derek Carr. How about Demaryius Thomas?
The 30-year-old will have close to a $30 million cap hit over the next two seasons if he is kept in Denver, per the Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala. A massive number for a receiver who failed to reach the 1,000 yard mark in 2017.
Important note as Broncos' retool their roster this offseason: Demaryius Thomas has a $4M option due by the last day of the 2017 league year. If it's declined, the last 2 years of his deal will void and he'll become a FA. He has cap hits of $12.03M and $17.5M in 2018 and 2019.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) January 12, 2018
Denver is also a team looking for a new quarterback and might not be able to properly use Thomas’ skill set with Trevor Siemian or whoever is under center.
In addition, $30 million over the next two years for a wide receiver doesn’t make financial sense for a Broncos squad that won just five football games last season and are probably headed for a rebuild. It would make more sense to use that money to protect the future franchise quarterback instead of an older weapon on the outside.
While releasing Thomas before the 2018 season doesn’t make much sense, as they would have to take on over $18 million in dead cap if he is cut before June 1 or over $15 million if after June 1, it could be plausible for the Broncos to deal the receiver.
Gruden will bring a win now mentality to the organization, especially after the emphasis he put on the next two seasons in Oakland during his press conference. But McKenzie would be hesitant to pull the trigger to accept a monster salary and part with a draft pick (likely would be a mid-to-late round pick considering Thomas’s salary).
Part of any deal the Raiders would probably want Thomas to take less money. Career wise it might make sense for Thomas since he could play with a quarterback who could take full advantage of his assets. With Thomas is entering his thirties, he only has so much time to put up 1000-yard seasons and compete for a Super Bowl. In Denver, it would be difficult for Thomas to do either.
The 5-time Pro Bowler has seen his numbers go down the past three seasons with subpar QB play, but he still has a lot left in the tank and has put up 3,336 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns over that time. He also hasn’t missed a game since 2011.
Everyone saw what Thomas did with an aging Peyton Manning, who knows what he could do with Carr, who is entering his prime, the offensive minded Gruden at the helm and the impressive wide receiver coach Edgar Bennett who comes over from Green Bay.
All in all, a Bronco being traded to the Raiders might sound ludicrous, but it would make sense for all parties involved.