What To Keep In Mind Regarding Von Miller’s Contract

Joel Corry, a former sports agent who now writes for CBS Sports, shared his take on the Von Miller contract situation and what he expects will happen.

Summarizing some of his points:

• The framework is already in place. The $114.5M total over six years is not likely to change.
• Both Miller and the Broncos will need to make concessions on the finer points. For example, Miller should get more full guarantees than Olivier Vernon did but not the cash payout for the first season.
• Ndamukong Suh’s contract is an outlier in some aspects, so don’t expect Miller to exceed Suh’s contract in every way.
• The Broncos can afford to pay Miller as their franchise player for the next three years because quarterback Paxton Lynch will play on his rookie deal at a much lower salary. By the time Lynch is eligible for an extension (2019), Miller’s guaranteed money will likely run out.
• A deal likely won’t be reached until closer to the July 15 deadline for franchised players to sign long-term contracts with their teams.

I will expand on a few of these points.

Why a deal won’t be reached until July 15: As Corry explains, we have entered the slowest part of the NFL calendar. Those working in the front office are likely taking vacations at this time. The reason for that is easily explained: They are obviously busy during training camp and the regular season, plus they stay busy after the season ends, because it’s time to prepare for free agency and the draft. After the draft, they must focus on signing drafted players, undrafted rookies and any veterans they think could help out. Some teams might have to decide on post-June 1 cuts to clear cap space. So the weeks leading up to Fourth of July are the best time for team employees to take vacations, meaning they aren’t around to negotiate deals.

Fully guaranteed money is the major sticking point: It’s hard to expect Miller to accept any deal that gives him less fully guaranteed money upon signing than Olivier Vernon and Marcel Dareus. One can argue that Suh’s deal ($59M guaranteed upon signing) is an outlier, but not those for Vernon or Dareus. Dareus’ deal ($42M guaranteed upon signing) is the big one, because not only was Dareus somebody whose rookie deal came under the new CBA, but he signed it before his rookie deal expired. That the Bills were willing to give so much to Dareus makes it difficult for the Broncos to argue that Miller should take less. Vernon’s deal ($40M guaranteed upon signing) came when he hit free agency after the Dolphins pulled the transition tag from him. With that said, while Miller and his agent can argue he should get more full guarantees upon signing than Vernon did, asking for a larger cash payout in the first year (Vernon got a $20M signing bonus, $7M roster bonus and $1.75M base salary) may not happen. The Giants happened to be flush with cap space and most of their best players are still under their rookie deals, so they come at much lower salaries, thus allowing the Giants to spend more money on veteran free agents. The Broncos are not in that position. Miller should get the $21.5M signing bonus and a $1.75M base salary is reasonable, but he may not get a $7M roster bonus. Thus, the best way to get more full guarantees is to focus on the third year of the deal, similar to what happened when the Jets gave Darrelle Revis his current deal.

If Lynch proves to be the long-term answer, it will be a while before he gets a large salary: For the next four years, the Broncos will have Lynch at an average salary of slightly more than $3M, which is in line with what a good veteran backup QB would get. Even if the fifth-year option is exercised, it will still be great value if Lynch shows he’s the long-term answer at QB. So until 2019, the Broncos will have him at a cheap salary, and in 2020, the fifth-year option kicks in and keeps his cap number low relative to what the typical starting QB takes up. And the Broncos could just franchise Lynch in 2021. By that point, if Miller is still on the team, he would be in the final year of a six-year deal. He would be 33 in 2021 and it’s likely he would be released to make room for Lynch’s contract, or at the very least, have to take a salary cut but perhaps earn money back through incentives.

The Broncos can still manage their cap well enough in 2017: The Broncos, at this time, will have $65M in cap space based on a projected cap of $166M. If we assume the Broncos’ cap stays the same as this year (about $153M), that’s still $52M in space. Obviously, Miller’s deal would take up a lot of that, but the Broncos can gain $10M in cap space by cutting Aqib Talib. That move will very likely happen because Talib’s guaranteed money will run out and the Broncos can just extend Kayvon Webster at a much lower salary, make him the third corner and Bradley Roby (who enters the final year of his rookie deal) the No. 2 corner. The Broncos will also make a decision regarding Russell Okung’s option – if he doesn’t pan out in 2016, the Broncos will decline the option and free $10.9M in cap space. Even if they pick up the option, the Broncos don’t have any player coming up for extension who will command a massive amount of money. Brandon Marshall will be a priority, but he likely won’t exceed the APY that NaVaorro Bowman received ($9M) and might take less than that if he’s signed before the 2017 calendar year begins. I would estimate Marshall coming between $6M and $7M APY if he takes a “hometown discount.” Emmanuel Sanders’ current deal averages $5M per year, and while he will want a raise in a new contract, if he’s willing to take less money, he might be OK with an APY salary range like Marshall’s. Webster is most likely looking at a deal similar to what David Bruton got from Washington, which is $3M APY. And Sylvester Williams is likely to get an APY salary of no more than $4M. In other words, the Broncos won’t have any pending free agents likely to land a deal with a double-digit APY salary like Brock Osweiler or Malik Jackson received.

A holdout isn’t going to happen: If Miller skips training camp, the Broncos will fine him for each day he misses and Miller won’t be collecting any paychecks – paychecks that would be a considerable amount if he signed the tag. Simply put, Miller gains nothing by holding out of training camp. Don’t buy into that talk; it’s just talk. I would expect Miller and the Broncos to get a deal done, but on the small chance they don’t, it’s more likely Miller and the Broncos agree to a one-year deal (the only contract possible if the sides don’t reach a long-term deal before July 15) and Miller reports to training camp.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.