ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Unlike last year, the Broncos weren't able to announce any contract extensions for Pro Bowlers in the days before training camp. That means tight end Julius Thomas begins practice with nothing assured beyond the final year of his first contract.
From watching Thomas at work, you wouldn't know that he was headed into a contract year, and that both sides are trying to hammer out a long-term deal. That's because he's not thinking about it.
"My job is playing football, and I guess that's cliched, but I don't worry about things that are outside of my control," he said. "I'm out here to become the best football player possible. I only think you can focus on one thing in life, and if your focus is in areas outside of this football field, then you're already handicapping yourself.
"So when I go home at night, I'm not worried about contracts. I'm worried about what plays I could have made, (and) what I could do better on the field. My agent, Frank (Bauer), and the guys upstairs, they'll handle all that. I'll just keep working with my teammates and try to get better."
Thomas' future has been a topic of radio and social-media discussion in light of the status of New Orleans' Jimmy Graham. Graham was given the franchise tag last year, but filed a grievance claiming he should have been tagged as a wide receiver. Because franchise-player values are based on the top five salaries at each position, the difference in the one-year tender is over $5.2 million.
In that light, Thomas was asked whether he viewed himself as a tight end or a wide receiver.
"I just personally view myself as a guy that can go out there and make plays," he replied. "I've been trying to push Goose (Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase) to give me a handoff or two.
"But I don't really care what position I go down on the depth chart as. They can put me at defensive end, and I'll go out there and play tight end, wide receiver, slot, it doesn't matter.
"I don't view myself as any position. I just want to go out there and be a guy that can make plays (and) help my team out."
Few tight ends made more plays last year than Thomas. His 12 touchdowns were a Broncos record for tight ends. Just four tight ends had more yardage than Thomas' 56.3.
The relationship between Thomas and the Broncos has been symbiotic; Peyton Manning's arrival and the offense's rise has helped propel him to the game's elite. He credits Tight Ends Coach Clancy Barone with helping his development. It was Barone that helped Thomas connect with Tony Gonzalez this summer, where Thomas peppered the future Hall of Famer with questions.
"For me, it was just kind of understanding, 'How do you continue to play at a high level? What do you do to prepare for games? What do you do to get the most out of practice?' Just kind of things that only a future Hall of Famer and 17-year veteran would know," said Thomas. "I'm just happy to have him as someone I like to call and bounce some things off of."
Gonzalez, like Thomas, is a former college basketball standout. Gonzalez went on to spend the first 11-plus seasons of his career in Kansas City before being traded to Atlanta. Thomas would like to have a long stay in Denver like Gonzalez did with a Broncos rival.
"Denver's a great city, a great place. I have always felt very welcomed here, very loved. And I can't say a bad thing about it here," he said.
"But business is business, and everybody that has been in business knows that whatever you want, whatever somebody else wants, doesn't always happen. Things have to work out the right way. I'm sure that the right things will happen."
For now, Thomas knows the right thing to do is to hone his craft. If he continues to blossom, the rest will take care of itself.