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Broncos mailbag: Will Von Miller return in 2021?

The no fumble wonder of smallish Lindsay and Spencer. And another season that didn't bring enough smiles.
Credit: AP Photo/Gregory Payan
Von Miller strips the ball from Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton during the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016.

DENVER, Colorado — Christmas has brought a fourth consecutive losing season to the Broncos. COVID-19 couldn’t shake up the NFL’s balance of power. The defending champions appear to be stronger. The Jets and Jags are weaker.

The Broncos have played hard (the last defensive play against the Bills, notwithstanding) and they have been exciting at times. Drew Lock’s finish against the Chargers and sublime performance against Carolina have been the highlights. Kendall Hinton’s attempt to play NFL quarterback was so memorable his forearm play-call sheet went on display in Canton. His eventual performance was also so forgettable the pooh-bahs in New York created a new rule to make sure it doesn’t happen again. (Similar situations will allow teams without a QB to sign one off the practice squad of another.)

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After 14 games, the Broncos were 5-9 and 6-8 in two seasons with Vance Joseph and now 5-9 and 5-9 in two seasons under Vic Fangio. Four years in a row with nothing but pride to play for in the final two weeks.

And yet, the Broncos Mailbag shows up and delivers.

Mike,

Von Miller a 2021 Bronco?

--Todd Allerdings

Todd – The guess here is he returns only if he accepts a pay cut from the $18 million he is scheduled to make in 2021, the final year of his contract. As it stands now, I don’t think Miller would take a pay cut.

Then again, emotions are always raw at season’s end. Once it gets down to cold-hearted business in March, deals can get done.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller takes part in drills during NFL football training camp, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, at the team's headquarter in Englewood, Colo.

I’ll give you three scenarios for Von.

One, Miller returns at the $18 million he is owed. Von’s financial situation is unique in that there is a sentimental component. For nearly a decade, Miller put the D back in the Denver Broncos. With apologies to Champ Bailey, Steve Atwater, Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg, Louis Wright, and Dennis Smith, Miller is the best defensive player in franchise history. Super Bowl 50 made it so.

Two, he takes a pay cut. Miller would not take a pay cut to, say, $9 million or $12 million without asking for another year with guaranteed money tacked on to the final year of a contract that started as a defensive-player record six-year deal at an annual average of $19.083 million.

If it comes down to Von saying, pay me or cut me, the Broncos would have a difficult decision to make.

Know this about the edge rusher market: Miller is now the league’s sixth-highest paid. Joey Bosa, who may be the NFL’s most overpaid player, has 47.5 sacks since the Chargers selected him with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2016 draft. Even with Von Miller missing the entire 2020 season with an ankle injury, he has 46.0 sacks since 2016.

So after making $43 million in cash this year, Bosa will wind up with a contract that averages $27 million annually through 2025. That’s 33% richer than Miller for roughly 20% less production. But after five consecutive double-digit sack seasons in which he averaged 12.6, Miller dipped to 8 in 2019, and will be left with a goose egg this year because of injury.

Miller turns 32 in March. If it were any other player not named Von Miller, he would be flat released. But I do think Miller has two more good years left in him. It’d be a shame if he refused a pay cut, hit the market, and signed, say, a two-year, $30 million deal with Justin Herbert and the Chargers.

Three, Miller is released or traded. Peyton Manning was released. Tom Brady was released. Champ Bailey was traded, and released twice. It happens to them all. I don’t think Von would have a strong trade market because of his age, declining production and recent history. But I can see the New England Patriots, who usually drew the best out of Von, or Seattle with Russell Wilson, or Miami with Tua Tagovailoa giving up a third-round pick plus a one-year, $18 million commitment in exchange for the calculated risk that one of the greatest pure pass rushers of this generation has 10 to 12 more sacks ready for 2021.    

Mike,

Considering all the headaches the Broncos went through for 5 years trying to find a threat at punt returner who could hold onto the ball, to me the greatest Diontae Spencer stat of all is that in 78 touches as punt returner for Broncos (36 returns, 42 FC) he has not had one fumble! (Spencer did lose one fumble from scrimmage last year at receiver).

So you've got two of the smallest ball handlers on the team, Spencer and Phillip Lindsay, who never fumble. It must show there's some special skill to it. 

--Dave Larison, Longmont

Dave – The 5-foot-7 1/4, 187-pound Lindsay has 534 career rushes, 77 catches and 10 returns for 621 total touches – and zero fumbles. (Knock, knock). Truly remarkable.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) runs the ball against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

You sent this letter, Dave, a couple days after the 5-7, 180-pound Spencer went 83 yards for a touchdown return at Carolina and before he muffed a punt, but recovered it, last week against the Bills. He has 7 receptions, 4 rushes, 61 combined kickoff and punt returns and 42 fair catches for 114 career touches and has only lost one fumble.

Both do have superior technique – Lindsay secures the ball high and tight with his left arm, and Spencer almost always catches his kickoffs or punts right at his bread basket. And each must have sneaky hand and forearm strength for their size.

But I would also surmise that the smaller and quicker the player, the more elusive the target for tacklers.

For instance, Melvin Gordon is much bigger at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. He has fumbled 18 times, losing 13, in a career in which he has 1,258 rushing carries and 254 receptions for 1,512 touches.

There are reasons besides size, of course, for frequent fumbling. I don’t do a deep-dive study on such things, but I’ll assume there were times, especially in his rookie season of 2015 and his last season with the Chargers, first with the Broncos, that Gordon had a tendency carry the ball too far away from his body.

He's a good back again, though. Looking forward to see Gordon and Chris Harris Jr. play against their former teams Sunday in Los Angeles.

I have always enjoyed your reporting on 9NEWS and still do … But it seems to me your demeanor has changed drastically the last week or so.  You always had a smile with a light background.  Now it seems you rarely smile and the background has gotten much darker. Is that reflective of your opinion of where the Broncos are going and/or the state of the organization in general?

Thanks for your attention and keep up the good work.

--Al Dahlbach, Aurora

Al – I shall begin defense of my semi-accidental dour disposition by pointing out you sent this letter on Dec. 7, the day after the Broncos were coming off a hard-fought loss to Kansas City. That game again slammed me over the noggin that the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes and the Broncos don’t. And it’s going to be that way for another 10 years or 15. Drop the dobber. Ugh.

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The week before that, the NFL embarrassed the Broncos by making them play without a quarterback against the rugged and perennial playoff-contending New Orleans Saints. I am an impartial observer, Al, but I also recognize 9NEWS’ audience is Broncos Country. And I didn’t think Broncos fans wanted to hear attaboys, stay patient, the future-is-bright sentiment.

But good, bad or indifferent, I can always break off a smile, Al, you’re right. And since receiving this letter I have made sure to smile as Rod Mackey introduces me – in part because once I start describing the state of the team, the critic's frown returns.

And I have tried to remember to turn on more bedroom lights to better illuminate the Roberto Clemente and Joe Namath paintings in the background of my bedroom office studio.

COVID-19, Al, COVID-19. Appreciate the kind words and constructive criticism.

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