What should have been a year for the Denver Broncos to bask in Super Bowl 50 glory has become an off-season of player exits and publicly messy contract disputes between Von Miller and general manager John Elway.
So dismal have Elway's dealings become that the team's Super Bowl MVP literally cropped the hall of famer out of a White House group photo and Miller has now gone on the record saying there is "no chance" he will play under the $14 million franchise tag.
Spite has hit an all-time Mile High. Perhaps it's time for Miller and the Broncos to agree to disagree and part ways.
The Broncos offered Miller a $114 million multi-year deal. Obviously, that's a lot of money. But in the mega-millions world of pro football, that offer was only equivalent to Nmadukong Suh's contract two years ago and Elway guaranteed less of that dollar amount than Suh got back then. Basically, from Miller's and probably many players' perspectives, Elway slapped the team leader across the face.
In mafia terms, one might say, this isn't business anymore, it's personal.
Denver has only $4.6 remaining in cap money and they are in need of a legit No. 1 quarterback, according to overthecap.com. A trade makes good, long-term football sense because dealing Miller for a signal caller and picks may provide Denver with an opportunity to restock its depleted roster.
In order for Elway to move the franchise's "Dancing with the Stars" celebrity, one would think he'd need to get a sizable return. However, that may not be realistic. Despite Miller's dominate performance on the football's biggest stage, he is not the NFL's top defensive player.
Drafted No. 2 overall by the Broncos in 2011, Miller made an immediate impact, posting 11.5 sacks, earning him Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl nod. He followed that up with his best statistical year, posting 18.5 sacks, 50 tackles and six forced fumbles.
Since that peak season, his on-field performance has been in steady decline. In 2013, he missed seven games and had only five sacks. In 2014, he started all 16 games, posting 14 sacks and only one forced fumble. Last season was actually his worst statistical campaign to date. He tallied 11 sacks, ranking him only eighth in the league, and 30 tackles, tied for 285th in the NFL, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Although he captured the imaginations of football fans with his Super Bowl performance, Miller is now 27 years old with possibly his best days behind him. Given those realities, Elway's offer of $114 million seems quite generous. Regardless, teams may be willing to do better and would make logical trading partners.
Recently, Elway tried to broker a deal with San Francisco that would bring quarterback Colin Kaepernick to Denver. Elway didn't want to pony up the quarterback's full $11.9 million base salary. Trading Miller for Kaepernick plus picks would get Denver a legit starting passer with playoff experience. Given quarterback's careers generally last a lot longer than linebackers', Denver would be on the plus-side of a straight trade. But Miller's star status should get them a No. 2 and 3 pick additionally. San Francisco can afford Miller because they have $49 million in available cap room, according to overthecap.com.
Also, former No. 1 draft pick Blaine Gabbert can man the 49ers passing duties for 2016. And, upwardly trending rookie Jeff Driskel may be the quarterback of the future, if not a solid backup going forward. Making the deal more palatable, the 49ers are in need of a pass rusher. It's a win-win.
If Elway were willing to hold his nose, Oakland may make a good trade partner. I know, you're saying Hell will freeze over before that happens. But hear me out.
The Raiders have built a playoff-caliber roster. If Reggie McKenzie chose to do so, he could make some moves to come up with the money as Oakland still has nearly $11 million in available cap space. McKenzie also may be willing to guarantee $60 million over the first four years of a six-year deal, avoiding dead cap space after the impact player turns 31 years old.
Adding Miller would make the Raiders arguably an immediate Super Bowl contender, at least on paper. The Silver and Black's linebacker corps could field two Super Bowl MVPs, three world champions and three All Pros. A very scary prospect.
Fortunately for Oakland, Derek Carr and Khalil Mack have two seasons left on their rookie contracts before the fifth-year option comes up. Most of the team's core talent parallels that time line.
Oakland doesn't have a starting quarterback to trade, so they'd likely have to mortgage future draft picks, at least a No. 1 and No. 2 or 3 plus late-rounders for a trade inside the division. Yes, it's an Al Davis-esque, win-now move and one that tends to run counter to Reggie's long-term, build-through-the-draft philosophy.
The notion of dealing Miller may be a hard pill for Broncos fans to swallow. However, making Miller the NFL's best paid defensive player eats up a tremendous amount of cap space and statistics indicate the team may not get an equivalent production return from the linebacker.
If Denver hasn't resolved a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline, Miller has vowed not to play under the tag. That puts Elway in a weaker bargaining position with other franchises. The Broncos appear to be between a rock and a hard place.