Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway became a living legend for his comebacks. There was "The Drive," and now there is "The Deal."
With Elway at the point, the Broncos signed star pass-rusher Von Miller to a six-year, $114.5-million contract Friday that will include $23 million in upfront cash (through signing or roster bonus) and a whopping $70 million in guarantees, sources told 9NEWS.
In average annual value and total guaranteed dollars, Miller will become not only the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, but his contract will be the richest at any position other than quarterback.
“I’m super happy and excited to be back with my teammates for the next six years,'' Miller said in a statement. "This is something I really wanted—to stay with the Denver Broncos. I am so appreciative and grateful for this opportunity. I want to thank Mr. Bowlen, Joe Ellis, John Elway and Coach Kubiak for making this possible. I’m also thankful for the way my teammates and our fans have supported me. I’m excited for the future and ready to get back to work.”
The breakdown of Miller’s contract, according to sources:
- 2016: $17 million signing bonus/$6 million roster bonus ($23 million paid out within 14 days), $2 million in salary and workout bonus, other bonuses. Total $25 million (fully guaranteed). The year one payout was the only metric he did not surpass Philadelphia defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who got $27.3 million upfront with his recent contract extension
- 2017: $17 million in salary, bonuses (fully guaranteed). Total is $42 million after two years. Cox got $36.3 million guaranteed after year two
- 2018: $19 million in salary, bonuses. (Injury-only guarantee, converts to full guarantee in eight months, or March 17). Total is $61 million after three years. Cox got $55.55 million guaranteed after year three
- 2019: $17.5 million in salary, bonuses. (Injury-only guarantee but $9 million converts to full guarantee a year earlier, or in March, 2018). Total is $78.5 million after four years with $70 million guaranteed. Cox got $63.3 million guaranteed after year four
- 2020: $17.5 million in salary. $500,000 work out bonus (no guarantees). Total is $96.5 million after five years
- 2021: $17.5 million in salary. $500,000 work out bonus (no guarantees). Total is $114.5 million after six years
As recently as last week, it appeared Miller’s days as a Bronco were numbered. Call it bluster. Call it a clash of male egos. But Miller’s feelings were sore and the two sides seemed too far apart on how the contract should be structured.
"Any time you have a long negotiation, by definition there are peaks and valleys," Joby Branion, Miller's agent, said in a phone interview with 9News. "There are great moments of advancement and communication, and there are others where one side or the other feels slighted or feels left in the dark. And that just happens in long negotiations.
"The bottom line is you want to get to this day. Where both sides feel like the deal works for them. John is competitive. And he's one of the best competitors we'll ever know. And he competes off the field just as hard as he did on the field. He finds a way to get the job done. He sets a goal and rarely does he not achieve his goal. I think his goal was to sign Von Miller. Von had options as we all know. He was convinced his best option was to become a Bronco for life. I know that Von has a deep respect for John. He shared that with me and I shared that with Von.''
Eight days before the deadline, on July 7, negotiations became serious when Elway rewrote his proposal so that the guarantee of Miller’s third-year payout was triggered a year early. The two sides exchanged proposals again Friday with Elway working directly with Joby Branion, Miller’s agent. This time, the Broncos provided an early trigger on a $9 million guarantee in year four of Miller’s contract.
In the end, Elway upped Miller’s final guarantee from $39.8 million after two years and roughly $58 million in partial guarantees after three years to $42 million in full guarantee after two years and the $70 million in all-but-full guarantees after three years. That’s an incredible 75.9 percent increase in all-but-full guarantees in a 24-hour period.
“Von’s earned this contract not only for what he’s done in the past but for what we believe he’ll do in the future,'' Elway said in a statement. "This was a long process that ended the way we all wanted—with Von being part of the Denver Broncos for many more years. Our team had a tremendous year last season, and the way Von performed the final few weeks was such a big part of our Super Bowl run. Going forward, we expect great things from Von not only on the field but with the responsibility he has as a leader on the team. I’m proud of how we’ve handled this situation and give credit to everyone on our staff who helped get this done.”
Miller’s $19.083 million a year average exceeds the previous defensive average record of $19.063 million received last year by Miami’s Ndamukong Suh. And the $70 million in “essential” guarantees exceeds the $63.3 million guaranteed deal Philadelphia gave defensive tackle Fletcher Cox last month.
Only Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, who two weeks ago received a new $140 million contract extension, has greater guarantees in his deal with $75 million ($87 million including "injury-only" guarantees).
At last, some good news in this otherwise difficult Broncos offseason. Elway made waves in league circles back in March when he candidly stated after quarterback Brock Osweiler’s departure that he sought to build his teams, “with players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here.’’ He put money to his stated philosophy by securing Miller, who the day after he became the Super Bowl 50 MVP reaffirmed his commitment to the Broncos and said negotiations with Elway “would be a peaceful thing.’’
Talks remained mostly respectful as the Broncos placed a $14.26 million “exclusive” franchise tag on Miller on March 1. For at least three months, the major differences came in that the Broncos were negotiating from the franchise-tag market -- where they would have been obligated to pay $14.26 million in year one, $17.112 million in year two and $24.64 million in year three for a total of $56.0 million -- while Miller’s camp worked from the open, free-agent market, which they figured placed his value at $22 million to $25 million a year.
Talks became hostile on June 7 when after the Broncos’ delivered their own self-imposed deadline for Miller to accept their offer, sensitive details of negotiations became public.
Miller reacted by cropping Elway out of an Instagram photo that otherwise included head coach Gary Kubiak, pass rushing partner DeMarcus Ware and now-retired quarterback Peyton Manning.
Miller later stated on Twitter there is “No Chance I play the 2016 season under the Franchise tag.”
The Broncos, meanwhile, were frustrated by the growing perception they were taking a hard-line approach to negotiations when in fact their contract proposals to Miller were considerably greater than they were obligated to offer under the league’s franchise-tag rules.
Before engaging in serious negotiations last week, the two sides first worked to put aside their hard feelings. Elway spoke directly with Miller three times between June 5 and the Fourth of July weekend – once during the team’s Super Bowl trip to the White House on June 6, another time during the team’s Super Bowl ring ceremony on June 12, and again by phone.
Miller also had two phone conversations with Broncos president and chief executive officer Joe Ellis.
Although the deadline for reaching a multiyear deal with Miller as a franchise-tagged player wasn’t until next Friday, July 15, negotiations turned serious last Thursday.
For two reasons: One, the Broncos needed to start formulating trade plans in the event they couldn’t reach agreement with Miller. And two, Elway was about to vacation out of the country.
Since Elway chose Miller – and not the likes of Marcell Dareus and Patrick Peterson – with his No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011, the former Texas A&M product has registered 60.0 sacks through his first five regular seasons with the Broncos.
Miller then had his magic moment in the Broncos’ successful 2015 postseason run when he registered 2 1/2 sacks and an interception against Tom Brady in an AFC Championship Game win against New England on January 24 and then 2 1/2 sacks that led to two fumbles and two touchdowns in a Super Bowl 50 win against Carolina on Feb. 7.
The Broncos came a long way from their opening offer of $17 million per year – a little more than what Kansas City gave Justin Houston in 2015 -- during the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
The further time went on, though, the more the market moved in Miller’s favor. In free agency, a defensive lineman with less than half of Miller’s production, Olivier Vernon, got a contract worth $17 million a year from the New York Giants. Vernon’s contract pays him $29 million in year one of his deal. Later, Cox got a monstrous contract extension.
It’s just no longer not quite as monstrous compared to Miller’s new deal.
"You have your quarterbacks and you have your quarterback neutralizers,'' Branion said. "That's what Von is and kudos to John Elway for recognizing a player as talented and versatile as Von Miller.''