Denver Broncos GM George Paton has made the first few moves of his tenure. After clearing nearly $25 million in cap space by releasing cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, the Broncos now have approximately $48.4 million in cap space approaching the free agency period.
The created cap space puts the Broncos in the top-5 in available cap space across the league, but that space can dissipate quickly as options, tenders, and the franchise tag (potentially) are placed on different players.
One of the biggest questions facing Paton in 2021 is what to do with star pass rusher Von Miller. In the wake of missing the 2020 season after suffering a dislocated peroneal tendon in an ankle that required surgery, the soon-to-be 32-year-old’s future in Denver has been clouded.
The reason for Miller's uncertain future in Denver isn’t due to his level of play, as he is still viewed as one of the premier pass rushers in the entire NFL despite being over the 30-year-old hill. It's his bloated 2021 cap hit that muddies the water.
Currently scheduled to count $22,225M against the cap, the Broncos could save $18M with just $4.225M in dead money by not exercising Miller's option for this season. With Denver needing to make a decision on free-agent safety Justin Simmons’ future, defensive lineman Shelby Harris set to hit the open market, and the obvious holes at cornerback, the Broncos are expected to spend a decent chunk of their available cap on a veteran backup quarterback. Every dollar counts.
Losing Miller would hurt, but it might be the easiest way for Paton to create cap space now that Bouye and Casey have been released. Will the Broncos make that tough decision?
In an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, NFL insider Ian Rapoport shed some light on the future prospects of Miller in Denver.
If he’s free, he’s going to have a very good market," Rapoport told host Pat McAfee. "I will say at this point, I doubt that he’s free because they got the team option coming up. I don’t think they’re going to pick up the option because I think there is a good chance—I think there is a real chance the two sides get together and make it make sense. He wants to finish his career in Denver. He’s awesome. Missed last year with an injury. They have cap space. It’s hard to get better letting one of your best players walk so I would imagine there is some sort of compromising to smooth out his cap hit and make it make sense.
After how Miller reacted to even the notion of a contractual restructure on 104.3’s The FAN's Stokely and Zach show earlier this past season, much of Broncos Country was rightly concerned about Miller's future. It would be tough to release Miller for nothing only to see him join a championship contender and play at an elite level for another team, but sometimes that’s the reality of the NFL.
Similar to when DeMarcus Ware left Dallas for the Broncos, not all legends play their entire career for the team that drafted them in today’s NFL. The Broncos do have the cap space to exercise Miller’s option this year and survive, but as Rapoport stated, it is more likely Paton works out an extension with Miller’s camp that adds years on his deal, increases the guaranteed money on later years, and reduces some of Von’s 2021 cap hit to future years where the cap should be trending up once again.
Extending the still incredibly valuable Miller for future years while increasing spending flexibility by lowering Von’s 2021 cap hit is smart accounting and savvy business. Of course, there is always some level of concern extending an aging pass rusher coming off of a serious injury.
The Broncos, as McAfee would later state in the interview, could certainly use the cap savings in moving on from Miller to be more aggressive on the quarterback market this year. However, outside of Dak Prescott potentially becoming available, there really isn’t a quarterback worth even considering breaking the bank for on the open market.
If the Broncos are able to work out an extension and restructure for Miller, Denver is adding financial flexibility in an offseason in which not many teams will be able to be spenders. This advantage could give Denver a chance to cash in on some short-term bargains, and if not, Paton can just utilize the cap savings created by a restructure to roll over to 2022.
Getting the release of Bouye and Casey out of the way, the decisions now get much more difficult for Paton. Can the Broncos come to a long-term agreement with Simmons before having to use the franchise tag?
Will Denver exercise Miller’s 2021 contract option or can the two sides come to an agreement to extend Von and make his salary more team-friendly during a restricted cap season? For those hoping for Miller to become one of the rare elite players to play his entire career with one team, Rapoport’s latest information kindles new optimism, notwithstanding Von's ongoing legal question marks.
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