ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Von Miller’s best friend among Broncos was in the team's weight center Monday morning when word came of the trade.
An assistant strength coach had told his boss Loren Landow that Miller had been dealt to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for draft picks. Brandon McManus was there and got the same message.
It might seem unusual for a kicker and outside linebacker to become close friends. Then again McManus and Miller had been the only holdovers from the 2015 team’s Super Bowl season – Miller was the MVP of that world championship game and McManus got the shout out as the offensive star from President Barack Obama during the team’s White House visit the following June– and both were team captains.
On the road, they went to lunch together. At home, they hung out at Von’s house.
And now came word that would make McManus the Broncos’ only remaining member from their Super Bowl 50 team.
"The past couple years around the trade deadline, or the offseason -- especially this year when the team had an option whether to pick up his contract for this year and to guarantee it -- we had these rumblings going on so I had a video prepared in March if we had to say goodbye to him," McManus said in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS this week. "It’s sad. I lose a teammate, I don’t lose a friend.
"What a storied career he had here. In my opinion the greatest draft pick in Broncos history. Because John (Elway) was traded so technically that’s not a draft pick. Just an incredible player, person. And how much (Von's) grown from his time here. I didn’t know him his first couple years here but to watch him grow, but outside of that, what he does in the community with Von’s Vision, him becoming a father now this year, it was exciting to be on the back part of his journey."
Indeed, Miller’s greatest accomplishment during his 10 ½ seasons in Denver may have been that he didn’t let his personal demons and immaturity derail his career in 2013. The Broncos’ No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year that season, and nearly the league's Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 when he had a career-most 18.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles along with a pick six, Miller’s third season was a near disaster. It began with a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse (marijuana) policy, then having warrants out for his arrest because of missed court dates, and then trying to undermine the testing system. After he returned, he suffered a torn ACL in the second-to-last game.
Miller was on the brink of flaming out. Another first-round pick from the 2011 draft, Aldon Smith, had his career ruined by off-field problems. But Miller after 2013, earned six more of his 8 Pro Bowl berths, 75 more of his 110.5 regular-season sacks, and the Super Bowl 50 MVP trophy.
"You mentioned Aldon Smith, there were some other players who got into suspensions and trouble and never came out of it," McManus said. "I think him growing up with some good parents, who I know very well as well, probably slapped him up pretty good saying you have a once in a lifetime opportunity here, especially as the second overall pick – 'What are you doing? You’re so talented, don’t let this go to waste.'
"And so I think he finally realized that. We all saw on the field how talented he was and then becoming confident in himself and realizing he doesn’t need to do certain things outside of football and when you’re playing well in football things will come to you. When he won the Super Bowl MVP all these things started coming to him. Usually when you do things the right way at a top level, most things will come your way and that’s how they turned his life around.
"As you saw, he spoke up more the last couple years, becoming more of a leader. When certain players left he had to fill the void. That stepped him out of his comfort zone as well. And really became a different person from when he entered the league in 2011."
Life moves on. Tom Brady is no longer with the Patriots. Peyton Manning didn’t finish with the Colts, to the ever-lasting joy of Broncos Country. And Von Miller is now a Ram.
The Broncos hadn’t made the playoffs the past five years with Miller and they were 3-4 with him this year. The team's slide wasn't Miller's fault, but he couldn't singlehandedly stop it, as he did winning Super Bowl 50 with his two strip-sack fumbles that led to touchdowns in a two touchdown victory.
McManus has earned the right to stay with the Broncos because he keeps getting better every year. He is 16 of 16 on 33-yard extra points this season and 13 of 14 in field goals.
"It comes down to I’ve been doing this for a decent amount of time now," McManus said. "I’ve kicked a lot of footballs in my life. You never truly feel totally comfortable out there, but the more you do it -- the more someone is over a 3-foot putt to win the Masters or something -- you become more accustomed to what’s successful in that action.
"The more reps, the better I’ve gotten over the years. I’ve had to kick every single field goal imaginable. Situations to win games, tie games, lose games, everything. I’ve missed kicks to win games so I know what that feels like. I know what I’ve done wrong and try to never let that happen again."
Not one game this season has come down to a McManus field goal. The Broncos’ average victory margin in their four wins has been 11.75 points and their average margin in defeat has been 9.25. Does McManus go into each game hoping the game comes down to him?
"No, I hope we blow teams out, 49-0 to be honest with you," he said with a smile. "So I’ll have 7 extra points and 8 kickoffs. But that’s not reality in this league. I’ve kicked a lot of game-winning field goals when I’ve had to kick them. Every game, especially with the defense we have -- and I’m just going with the trend we’ve had the last couple years and the amount of points we’ve put on the board -- it’s going to be a tight game so every point is crucial especially when I go out there to kick field goals. I treat my 3 points in the second quarter like they could wind up being the winning field goal because of the ebbs and flows of the way the game is going and the amount of points."
His only miss came last week and it was from 53 yards out. It tailed about six inches outside the right goal post.
The difference between aim, approach or technique for a 33-yard extra point compared to a 53-yard field goal?
"I would love to tell you there’s no difference," McManus said. "But at the end of the day there is 20 yards. The margin of error you have -- I kick my extra points from the middle of the field. If I were to not quite hit it the way I want to, I have kind of a two-way miss, a little to the right, a little to the left. Kicking off a hash, you only have one miss.
"So when you’re kicking off hashes you have to play a little more angle than an extra point kick. You just try to play that right angle at the right distance. When I kicked it I started it right down the middle and I thought it was going to stay there and it didn’t. It went a little bit to the right.
"The distance is never a problem. People say it’s easier to kick here in Denver. I’ve kicked here for a long time now. I don’t need the added altitude for distance. You still have to kick it between the yellow posts, that’s the most important thing. The further you go back it becomes more of an angle and numbers thing, trying to play it the right way."
And then there was one
Peyton retired. Demaryius, Emmanuel and Aqib were traded. T.J. and C.J. and Brandon Marshall were released. Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe were allowed to leave for free agency, as did so many others.
McManus is still a Bronco. The one and only from the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 team of just six years ago.
"I would love to have some of my Super Bowl teammates still here with me," he said. "That’s the nature of the business. I know that more than anybody having been cut three times and traded. It’s an honor to continue to play for this organization for this long of a time and hopefully – I don’t know if I’ll ever get to those Jason Elam numbers – but would have to be part of something this long."
McManus is No. 2 on the Broncos' all-time scoring list with 776 points. Elam is off in his own orbit with 1,786 points. Maybe some year.
After learning his good friend had been traded, McManus finished his lift, then went to the locker room and visited briefly with Miller.
"I knew I was going to go over to his ouse afterwards once I heard the news so I let the other guys spend time with him, his coaches and staff members who have been here for so long, the equipment managers and video," McManus said. "So spent some time with him, his dad, his brother, everybody at his house there."
McManus does believe there was an underlying message from the Miller trade that all players in the locker room should have received. Namely, everyone is expendable.
"Each player has to go on the field – at least this is my mindset and what I talk to these guys about – you have to go on the field to almost prove yourself every week," he said. "You have to give the team a reason to not get rid of you, not to look for somebody else because they are always looking for the next draft pick.
"It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-round quarterback the year before if there’s a superstar quarterback like with the Kyle Murray and Josh Rosen (situation in Arizona), they’re always looking for your replacement. You have to give them reason not to. I think we have a lot of young guys on this team and that is something that not everybody still to this day lives by.
"I’ve been cut three times so I’ve been almost forced into thinking that way, but that’s what I really try to get across these guys is in the NFL -- there’s many definitions for what the NFL stands for and Not For Long is probably one of the best. So what I try to get across to these guys is if you’re a winning team, then everyone is going to make money. The coaches will make money, the players will make money. If you’re a losing team, well guess what? They’re constantly looking for change and to get rid of you. And if you’re looking for change then other teams may not want you. Individual success really comes down to winning."
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