Denver Broncos: The future of Von Miller begins in 2021 offseason
By Steven Kriz
The future of Denver Broncos legend Von Miller begins in the 2021 offseason.
Denver Broncos legend Von Miller has never been shy about his desire to be a ‘Denver Bronco for life’. The star pass rusher was poised to have one of his finest seasons, regularly posting to his social media accounts details of his intense workouts and insane body transformation.
Motivated by a number of things — finally having a young quarterback, a statistically disappointing 2019, the death of Kobe Bryant, and the desire to take on a greater leadership role — fueled the fire for Miller to have an incredible 2020 season until that final rep in one fateful practice forced a long-term injury that has kept him out thus far in 2020.
The Broncos are going to be faced with a number of difficult decisions this offseason, and at the center of those discussions will be Von Miller, the MVP of Super Bowl 50 and the most beloved active player for the Denver Broncos.
Why, you ask?
Von Miller is slated to make a base salary of $17.5 million with an additional $500k in workout bonuses, and he will carry a cap hit of just over $22 million. In a year that many have expected to see the salary cap drop for the first time in who knows how long, that isn’t great for an older player coming off a lost year.
So what is the answer?
Some think that the Von could be a casualty of the salary cap, cut to save money, and bring in younger talent. It could make a bit of sense as the team would free up $18 million in cap space by releasing Miller. But on the other hand, the Broncos are poised to be in the top half of the league in terms of cap space, even if the cap goes as low as $175 million as many predict it will.
That said, the Broncos still may want to free up some cap space to further bolster the roster and there is certainly an easy way to do that and still keep Von Miller on the roster. In fact, in listening to some others that have sources within the team, it seems the preferred course would be inking Miller to a new extension, both keeping Miller with the team for a few more years and also freeing up some additional cap space to get some deals done with some of the younger talent.
An extension makes the most sense for a couple of reasons:
1. The Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb to have an elite 1-2 combo off the edge. In three seasons, we’ve only seen the two of them together for 20 games, 16 of them coming in Chubb’s rookie year. Von put the work in this offseason to remain elite and the Broncos should want to see the duo in action.
2. 2021 is a year to compete.
Entering year three for Drew Lock, and year two for a number of the offense, this team is set up very nicely to make a run. Most all of the young talent on offense will still be operating on rookie deals for the next few years. That is the time when you can afford to pay a premium at other positions.
The offense taking a seven-point-per-game leap next year is not even close to being out of the question, and if you can pair a 27 point-per-game offense with an elite level defense, that has the makings of a Super Bowl contender. If Denver believes in what they’ve built, they should do everything possible to put the best possible players out there.
So what type of extension would make sense to make Von Miller a ‘Bronco for life?’
- 2-Year Extension
- $30 million in new money
- $23 million fully guaranteed at signing
- $33 million in effective guarantees
Let’s break this down a bit. A two-year extension would tack on two years on top of his current contract that expires after 2021, meaning he’d be in Denver through 2023.
When I say $30 million in new money, what that means is $15 million a year for 2022 and 2023. $23 million guaranteed at signing would be a combination of locking in his $18 million in cash ($17.5 million base salary + $500k in workout bonus) for 2021 while guaranteeing a portion of the 2022 salary.
Why this becomes an effective guarantee is that there would be part of that salary that the Broncos would have to pay out regardless, making it far more unlikely that they would cut him after 2021, and effectively guaranteeing him $15 million in 2022 to go with his $18 million in 2021.
Let’s also take a peek at some of the year-over-year details of the proposed extension:
- $12 million signing bonus
- $5.5 million base salary (guaranteed)
- $500k workout bonus
- Cap Hit: $14,125,000 ($5.5mil salary + $4.125 million prorated bonus from previous deal + $4 million prorated bonus from this deal + $500k workout bonus)
His deal as it stands today for 2021 currently is a $17.5 million base salary, a $500k workout bonus, and the cap number also accounts for a $4.125 million from the bonus he’s already been paid.
What we’ve done here is paid him the same amount of cash between the signing bonus, the base salary (that we also guaranteed as part of the extension), and the workout bonus. However, because we can prorate the signing bonus over the final year of the previous deal, and the two added years, we’ve lowered his 2021 cap hit by $8 million.
- $9.5 million base salary ($5 million guaranteed)
- $5 million roster bonus (paid on the first few days of the new league year)
- $500k workout bonus
- Cap hit: $19 million ($9.5 million salary+$5million roster bonus+$500k workout bonus+$4 million prorated bonus)
The reason that we guarantee $5 million of salary and use the roster bonus is that this acts as a guarantee mechanism in a way for Von, but also provides a little bit of protection for the team in case they need to move on. The Broncos would have to cut Von prior to his roster bonus being paid out, and if they did so, Von would still get $5 million.
The Broncos could choose to cut him, but it would be a large dead cap hit, and they would still owe him money. It’s better than having to pay him $15 million and taking a massive dead cap hit, but is still not ideal which is why I considered this an ‘effective guarantee’. I assume that if they don’t cut him prior to the roster bonus, then they most definitely aren’t cutting him in camp after they’ve already committed $10.5 million in cash, plus the damaging dead cap hit.
- $10 million base salary (not-guaranteed)
- $4.5 million roster bonus (paid on the first few days of the new league year)
- $500k workout bonus
- Cap hit: $19 million ($10 million salary+$4.5 million roster bonus+$500k workout bonus+$4 million prorated bonus)
If Von’s play has significantly dropped off at this point, the Broncos could cut bait for a $4 million dead cap hit prior to the new league year, or they could bring him into camp and decide to move on if he doesn’t make it through camp without having to pay his base salary and taking an $8.5 million dead cap hit.
So why would Von do this deal?
First off, this guarantees that Miller will make his money in 2021. While there is a chance that Von could make his $18 million if released, teams may shy away from paying a 32-year old player that type of money coming off a down year statistically in 2019, and then a lost year in 2020 due to injury.
Second, from a market standpoint, this puts him right in that range of players such as Melvin Ingram and Dante Fowler Jr. Von can argue that his name could put him higher in the echelon of the NFL, but the team can argue that they haven’t seen him perform in that echelon since 2018.
But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that money is the most important factor this time around. I’ll actually point to some history, and will imagine that Von has already noticed this parallel as well.
There are actually a ton of synergies between this extension and the deal that DeMarcus Ware signed when he joined the Broncos — a player that Von viewed/views as a role model and someone who has helped mold him into the person he is today.
Von is the same age now as DeMarcus was when he inked his deal with the Broncos and Bradley Chubb is entering his fourth year with the team, the same year that Von was when DeMarcus arrived so Von could see this extension as the way to pay forward to Bradley Chubb what DeMarcus paid to him.
Also, if he were to play out the life of this proposed deal, he would be 34 when it expired–the same age that Ware was when he retired, and Von has said he wants to be a ‘Bronco for life.’
Additionally, from a financial standpoint, this is a very similar deal to what Ware signed to help the Denver Broncos win a Super Bowl when you adjust it for inflation. Winning and legacy matter to Von — you can hear it any time he speaks on his future.
Ware could have got more money somewhere else, and Von may be able to get the same if not slightly better money if he were a free agent. But remaining with the team that drafted him, the team he’s won with before and is desperate to win with again is likely worth more to Von than a few extra dollars.
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Von knows that 2021 is the year for the Broncos. He sees the roster, both on offense and on defense, and knows that this team has a real chance to compete for a Super Bowl. My money is on Von Miller returning to the Denver Broncos for a few more rides, and achieving what he’s always talked about, becoming a ‘Bronco for life’.