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Money and guaranteed commitment purchased some renewed smiles for the Denver Broncos and linebacker Von Miller on Friday. That’s what bar-setting contract extensions do. They put a happy face on months of leaks and backroom sniping.
In the end, this will be celebrated as a two-sided win. Miller got his money and Denver locked in a Super Bowl MVP who was vocal about remaining a Bronco. Friday’s new deal for Miller will also gloss over some scars, too. The Broncos are gritting their teeth on a six-year, $114.5 million contract that has set expectations sky-high for Miller within the franchise. He’ll now be paid to compete on a Defensive Player of the Year level on an annual basis. That’s the mindset of the Broncos coming out of this.
As for Miller, the expanded paycheck comes with some bruises. He’ll try to put it behind him, but neither he nor his family were pleased with what he believes were multiple contract offer leaks by the Broncos’ brass. In that regard, there will be some necessary hatchet-burying that will take place between Miller and general manager John Elway.
It was quite the offseason of revelations about the Broncos’ front office, about strength of ownership (or lack thereof) and about how even the best players in Denver are handled when it comes to committing a large chunk of salary cap space. The takeaway from this spring and summer of maneuvers – culminating in Miller’s extension – is this: The Broncos have become a brutal opponent at the negotiating table. Sometimes to their benefit. And sometimes to their detriment.
The past five months of the Miller-Broncos negotiations show both ends of that spectrum. It ultimately ended in the same place that it started, with Denver not wanting to pay Miller like an annual Defensive Player of the Year candidate. While the Broncos ultimately made the leap, it was a commitment that came on the other side of significant reticence. Denver wasn’t excited to make a franchise quarterback guarantee to a linebacker. But Miller made it crystal clear that he was willing to sit out 2016 to force that commitment. And that message (and potential nightmare scenario) made a difference.
Unfortunately for the Denver brain trust, the grudging acceptance after five months is more costly than some realize. The Broncos could have gotten Miller back at a lesser guaranteed commitment in February, multiple sources familiar with the past five months of negotiations told Yahoo Sports. While Miller was seeking an annual salary commensurate with Miami Dolphins’ Ndamukong Suh, he would have ultimately taken less than the $70 million in hard guarantees that he received Friday. How much less is debatable, but the bottom line is Denver and Miller ultimately ended up in the same place in July that they could have achieved (far more easily) back in February.
There’s no way to tell what could have happened if Miller and the Broncos had just done the deal earlier this year. But there is one undeniable fact: If Denver had come to this same contract with Miller in February, the Broncos could have used the franchise tag to apply pressure in another negotiation. Most likely with former quarterback Brock Osweiler. At the very least, it would have given the Broncos some leverage that was lacking when free agency opened.
Maybe more important, this all could have been accomplished without some of the dicey backdoor antics that took place along the way. Things like the Broncos leaking contract offers to media outlets. Or Miller cropping Elway out of a photo on social media. Or Miller being pressured 1-on-1 by a multitude of individuals during negotiations, a group that included Elway and at least one coach and teammate.
None of that matters now. That’s one thing that Elway told Miller when they were at the White House together this offseason and had a side conversation about negotiations. Elway told Miller that at the end of the day, once a deal was signed, nobody would remember any of the grimy missteps. And for the most part, Elway is right. A river of new money tends to sweep remaining animus into the abyss.
But right now, for one last moment, it’s worth rehashing what has been learned in this negotiation.
First, the Broncos need to figure out what is going on with the ownership situation. Pat Bowlen’s absence due to illness has left a void and there were periods along the way where it was felt. It seemed both sides would have been served well by a strong ownership voice stepping in and reminding both sides that they ultimately are working toward the same goal.
Second, Denver’s front office wins at the negotiating table with a hard-headed approach. But it incurs some losses, too. The Miller deal could have been an asset in February. Instead, it became a five-month liability, largely because the Broncos’ front office misread the free-agent market and didn’t anticipate some of the astronomical deals that would make getting Miller extended so difficult.
Finally, there is some hubris on the part of Denver’s brain trust that is acceptable in winning but could become damaging if this franchise slips in the future. Coming out of a Super Bowl, the Broncos have taken a stubborn approach toward the talent base. Elway showed it most clearly when he took a swipe at Osweiler upon his departure. And there is a growing expectation that the Broncos expect players to give discounts when doing new deals. When you win, this can be seen as shrewd and savvy. But when losing occurs, it quickly earns the less-flattering labels of vanity and ego. Denver is walking that line.
But Friday, that line won’t take precedence. The only line that matters is the one Von Miller signed, and the one Denver fills in his bank account. The deal is done. For better or worse, Miller and the Broncos move forward together, knowing a little more about each other, exposing a little more about each other, and each side owing more than ever when next season starts.