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Broncos' free agency: Outside linebacker need comes down to Von Miller decision

With a restructure now a longshot, most likely choices are exercise $7 million and leave contract intact; or decline the option and set Von free.

DENVER — As he often does, Von Miller has spent the bulk of this offseason training in California.

One of his recent Instagram posts showed how he is now back to full speed, at least in terms of treadmill speed.

Considering he underwent season-ending surgery last September to repair a torn ankle tendon (not the Achilles), Miller’s high-speed treadmill workout was both impressive and encouraging. To make sure he’s coming along, Miller is scheduled to be in Denver this week to get a medical check from doctors. 

Sources say he visited Broncos headquarters Monday saying hello to his teammates, coaches and personnel staff, including meeting new general manager George Paton for the first time.

Time is of the essence.

The biggest question Broncos fans are asking: Will Von be a Bronco eight days from now?

Even with a local district attorney’s office announcing last Friday it will not file charges against Miller, who had been under criminal investigation by the Parker Police Department, other hurdles must be cleared if Miller is to return for an 11th Broncos’ season.

The situation is this: After his Super Bowl 50 MVP performance to cap the 2015, Miller in July 2016 received a six-year, $114.5 million contract extension that set a new record for NFL defensive players. There is now one year left on that contract, for $18 million, in 2021.

The first step in collecting that $18 million is for new Broncos general manager George Paton to decide by March 16 whether to exercise an option that would fully guarantee $7 million of that $18 million.

Because Miller will turn 32 in a couple weeks and missed the entire previous season with injury, the Broncos would like to restructure Miller’s contract so that it reduces his $18 million cash payout and $22.225 million cap hit.

Getting Miller to agree to a pay cut, however, now seems unlikely. J.J. Watt – who has not been as productive as Miller the previous five years – recently got a $14 million a year deal with Arizona. Miller would likely ask for, and command, more than a $14 million annual average in the free agency.

Even if Arizona had not signed Watt to $14 million per, though, Miller would have reason to skip a restructure and take his first chance at free-agency. Stardom fades without the postseason spotlight and Miller’s Broncos have not returned to the playoffs since he signed that record contract.

Five years without a postseason encore.

If the Broncos want to cut Miller’s pay to stay, would he instead say, no thanks, and try to find work with a perennial playoff contender?

Most likely, Paton has two options with Miller: 1. Exercise the $7 million guarantee option and keep him without modifying the one-year, $18 million payout; or 2. decline to exercise the $7 million, thereby releasing arguably the greatest defensive player in Broncos’ history.

It would be an extremely difficult decision for Paton because neither option is great for the team. One, the player stays at an uncomfortable price. Two, you lose the player.

With the free-agent negotiating window opening one week from today, 9NEWS continues its Broncos’ free agency series with a look at their outside linebacker position.

What they have: The Broncos do not have Miller of 2015, but can he regain 2018 form when he had 14.5 sacks? Miller slumped to 8.0 sacks in 2019 before his ankle got caught on the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse turf near the end of the first regular-season practice in 2020.

Miller was the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011; Bradley Chubb was the Broncos’ No. 5 overall pick in 2018. They had one season together. Chubb broke Miller’s rookie record with 12.0 sacks in 2018, then tore his ACL after 1.0 sack in 4 games in 2019. He rebounded to have 7.5 sacks in 14 games last year, but there is hope he will have completed his recovery this season.

In Miller’s absence, Malik Reed emerged with a team-high 8.0 sacks last year. Undrafted in 2019, Reed is a hustling, overachiever who on a perfect roster would be a No. 3 edge rusher who can come off the bench and bring immediate heat – as Jeremiah Attaochu has done at various points in his seven-year career. Attaochu is a free agent whom the Broncos may well try to re-sign if they lose Miller.

Derrek Tuszka was a 7th-round rookie outside linebacker last year who played some special teams. Tuszka is adding strength this offseason with plans on contributing more as a backup edge rusher.

The unknown: Besides Miller, who is the team’s great unknown, Chubb still has some work to do to return to rookie form. Even if he earned his first Pro Bowl berth, he did not dominate as he sometimes did as a rookie, with the exception of his 2.5-sack game in a win at the Jets. He should be stronger and quicker with another year removed from ACL surgery.

Possible free-agent help: If Miller is not re-signed, the Broncos do figure to pursue an edge rusher. The best is Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett, the former Bronco. It’s hard to believe Barrett won’t return to his world champion Bucs, though. Aldon Smith, Carl Lawson, Yannick Ngakoue, Hassan Reddick, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd are capable of diminishing Miller’s potential loss.

RELATED: No charges filed against Von Miller following criminal investigation

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