In his first year on the job, new Denver Broncos GM George Paton is already facing one of the most difficult decisions any front office head honcho would have to make. Paton must decide whether to keep an all-time legend and long-time face of the franchise Von Miller, or move on from the 32-year-old edge rusher coming off a significant ankle injury which would free up $18 million in cap space in an offseason where every dollar saved against the cap will be at a premium.
To be a good general manager, you're going to have to make tough decisions but rarely does one carry as much attention as what the Broncos will do with Miller. Freeing up $18M is not insignificant, especially this year.
While the Broncos already have the fifth-most cap space in the NFL at just under a projected $48M, that wiggle room can evaporate in a hurry considering the Broncos’ roster needs. Justin Simmons is reportedly going to receive the franchise tag, which could evolve into a multi-year extension by summer, and the number of restricted free agents Denver will likely tender in Tim Patrick, Phillip Lindsay, and Alexander Johnson will consume a big chunk of cap space.
The Broncos already got a glimpse of life after Miller last season. The defense truly didn’t fall off a cliff until the loss in the cornerback room became too much to overcome, more so than the lack of pass rush.
The defense would have been better with Miller undoubtedly, but Malik Reed was competent in Miller’s stead leading the team with eight sacks, while Bradley Chubb gained momentum as the season went on as he rebounded from an ACL injury to earn his first Pro Bowl nod. Chubb looks to be a long-term stalwart on Denver's defense.
Having Miller back for 2021 has to be tempting to Paton, but an additional $18M in cap space in a year where teams with spending power will likely be able to find incredible bargains given how few teams are in the financial situation to be buyers. Sometimes it pays to be shrewd in the NFL business, but is moving on from Miller the best thing for the team and defense?
NFL Network Broncos insider James Palmer understands that the team’s defense has some holes that need to be addressed, though the opportunity to field an elite pass rush with Miller and Chubb may be too tempting to pass up for Denver in 2021. Here's what Palmer said of the Miller situation in a sit-down with host Andrew Siciliano.
Vic Fangio and George Paton have been spending countless hours, I am told, working aside one another and I know Vic Fangio is telling him how good Von Miller looked in that (2020) training camp. They’ve always envisioned him and a healthy Bradley Chubb, just as DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller once did, going after quarterbacks. They’ve only seen that for one season and that was Chubb’s rookie year where Von Miller had 14.5 sacks and Chubb had 12. Then Chubb missed the next year, then Von missed this past year. Getting them both on the field at the same time would make things easier for a secondary where we have talked countless times about the issues at cornerback. A great pass rush really hides a lot of issues in the secondary they are trying to help. So keeping Von Miller in that sense would be a good move for them up front.
Certainly, that created cap space could help Denver target a boundary cornerback, or speed at linebacker, or a veteran hedge QB, or even tackle depth. However, it’s not always the team with the least amount of holes that wins in the NFL, but rather the team that has an overwhelming strength and key identity on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.
With that strength, other weaknesses and holes can be overcome. Football is a synergistic game after all. Being the GM is an envious position and an exclusive club, but with that power comes the responsibility of making exceedingly difficult decisions.
“We want to bring Von back and we’re still working through that," Paton said on Thursday before the news broke that a local Colorado D.A. won't be filing criminal charges on Miller. "I don’t want to get into everything, but we want to bring him back... We do want Von back.”
Time will soon tell whether Paton moves on from Miller and saves ample cash to better fill out roster holes for 2021. There are pros and cons to each side of the Miller argument.
Hopefully, the two sides can come to an agreement on a new contract and extension that makes Miller’s 2021 cap hit more manageable, keeping the edge rusher in Denver along with creating some space. Paton has until March 17 to make his decision and as that date gets closer, guessing which way Denver will go only becomes more difficult.
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