Maybe the Von Miller trade wasn’t such a “home run” after all
Jul 7, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:38 am
Ask most people in Broncos Country about the trade that sent Von Miller to the Rams last season and they’ll talk about what a masterstroke it was by George Paton. It was a move by Denver’s general manager that was almost universally praised.
The reasons were relatively straightforward. The trade garnered the Broncos a second- and third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, giving them more draft capital to work with during the offseason. Ultimately, they would up packaging a second and a third in this year’s draft in the Russell Wilson deal.
Thank goodness they added those picks, right? That’s what allowed them to pull of a blockbuster trade for a franchise quarterback, correct?
Well, not exactly. In reality, the second-round pick the Broncos sent to the Seahawks as part of trade package wasn’t the one they got from the Rams in the Miller deal. It was their own selection, which was No. 40 overall.
So the two first-round picks (2022, 2023), the two second-round picks (2022, 2023), Noah Fant, Shelby Harris and Drew Lock that Denver packaged for Wilson would have been at their disposal without the Miller trade. Thus, that defense of the move is a bit misleading.
The other argument in favor of the move was the fact that Miller turned into a rental player in Los Angeles. Ultimately, the pass rusher played eight regular-season games for the Rams, plus four playoff games. He helped his new team win the Super Bowl, but then bailed during the offseason for free agency.
The Rams probably don’t regret the deal. After all, Miller’s 4.0 sacks in the postseason were a big reason why they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. But they surely would’ve liked more than 12 total games in exchange for a second- and third-round pick.
There’s one big flaw with the argument that Paton was wise to get something for Miller before he signed elsewhere. There’s no proof that the greatest defensive player in the history of the Broncos would’ve chosen to leave town at the end of the 2021 season.
Sure, the Bills giving him a six-year, $120-million deal would’ve been tempting. And that’s a number that the Broncos might not have been willing to match.
They might not have had to do so, however. Miller might’ve taken a “hometown discount” to stay with the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2011.
After riding out the post-Peyton Manning years in Denver, there would’ve finally been a light at the end of the tunnel. After the Wilson trade, Miller would’ve seen a chance to win again in a Broncos uniform.
That would’ve been tempting. After all, he never wanted to leave. Miller didn’t ask to be traded. He wanted to finish his career in Denver.
Without the experience in L.A., that mindset probably wouldn’t have changed. Certainly not after the Broncos acquired a franchise quarterback right before free agency started.
There’s also the notion that the market would’ve been vastly different for Miller if he hadn’t gone to the Rams. Without another dominant postseason performance, which he wouldn’t have had if he’d stayed in Denver, he probably gets something similar to what the Raiders paid Chandler Jones (three years, $52.5 million). His price tag, most likely, got inflated with another playoff run.
That’s a grand hypothetical, however. No one will ever know what might’ve been.
Instead, it’s better to focus on the actual numbers of Miller’s deal with the Bills. And they aren’t really as crazy as they seem.
Essentially, it’s a three-year contract. The dead cap after the third season is only $7.4 million. After the fourth campaign, it’s only $3.7 million. Then, it’s down to $0.
That’s a similar structure to what the Broncos gave Randy Gregory. His dead cap number becomes relatively insignificant after the third season, too.
And in some ways, Miller’s contract is more team-friendly than Gregory’s, at least early on. The cap numbers are interesting:
2022 – $5.1 million
2023 – $18.7 million
2024 – $21.2 millon
2022 – $6.0 million
2023 – $16.0 million
2024 – $16.0 million
The Broncos are currently $11.2 million under the salary cap for 2022. They’d be at $12.1 million if they had signed Miller instead of Gregory.
Yes, they’d have made a slightly bigger commitment for 2023, but it’s not a significant difference. The biggest question is year three, where there’s a $5.2 million difference.
Will Miller be worth that kind of money at age 35? Maybe not.
But will Gregory be worth that kind of dough at 32? It’s debatable if he is now.
In the seven seasons since he was drafted out of Nebraska, the pass rusher has played in just 50 games. He’s started only 12. And in those appearances, he’s racked up just 16.5 sacks, never posting more than 6.0 in a single season.
Most people consider Miller’s last two seasons (2021 and 2019, as he missed all of 2020 with a foot injury) to be down years for the Super Bowl 50 MVP. He had 17.5 total sacks in those campaigns, more than Gregory has for his career. His 8.0 in 2019 or 9.5 in 2021 would’ve been career highs for Gregory, by a wide margin.
Miller has 115.5 sacks during his Hall of Fame career. That’s 99.0 more than his replacement, who is only three years younger.
Both are gambles. It’s a stretch to suggest that Gregory, who will potentially miss the start of the 2022 season after having offseason shoulder surgery, is a safer bet.
It’s hard to argue that Miller wouldn’t be a better option this season. He had the better campaign a year ago, despite coming off an injury. Why wouldn’t he be better than Gregory in 2022?
And right now, that’s actually all that matters. The Broncos moved into “win now” mode when they acquired Wilson. It’s not about what happens in three, four or five years. It’s about maximizing the current opportunity.
That’s what makes the compensation received for Miller even more underwhelming. It’s unlikely to have an immediate impact.
Denver used the second-round pick in this year’s draft received from L.A. to select Nik Bonitto. He’s a player with potential, but he also fell all the way to No. 64. Realistically, he’s not going to make an immediate impact.
The Broncos traded away the 2022 third-round pick they acquired in the Miller trade for a fifth-round pick this past season, as well as a third-rounder next year. They packed the fifth and a seventh in a trade that allowed them to move up eight spots to select Luke Wattenberg at No. 171.
So essentially, Denver got Bonitto, Wattenberg and a third-round pick next season for Miller. That seems a little light.
It certainly isn’t a lot that is going to help them win now. Or maximize the first two seasons of Wilson’s tenure in the Mile High City.
Instead, they’re going to try to win with a cast of pass rushers that have huge question marks attached to them. Gregory is injured. Bradley Chubb is coming off of an injury-filled, 0.0-sack season. Jonathan Cooper had 2.0 sacks last year as a rookie. Bonitto is a rookie this season. And Baron Browning is making the switch from inside linebacker to edge rusher.
Malik Reed might be their most-consistent player at that position. He has 15.0 sacks in the last three seasons combined, but has proven to be best suited as a rotational player.
Clearly, the Broncos would be better off with Miller on the roster. He’d solidify an important position.
Instead, Denver has a bunch of question marks in that vital spot. Instead, they have Nik Bonitto, Luke Wattenberg and a third-round pick next season.
Might that turn out to be a good haul? Sure. But would anyone bet on it?
It’d be a smarter to predict big things from Von Miller the next three seasons. That’s what the Broncos could’ve and should’ve done.