Mike Tanier wrote a good column about the importance of Von Miller to the Broncos’ defense and why the Broncos will have to pay him a considerable sum.
Tanier brings up J.J. Watt for comparison and calls Watt that “once in a generation” player who leads the pack. But as we know, Watt received a contract that pays him a lower APY salary, thanks to the Texans extending him before he even started the fifth-year option of his rookie deal.
So it’s worth asking the question: Why did the Texans do it at that point instead of just waiting until the franchise tag came along? I did some research and found some information that may not only answer that question, but explain why the Broncos may not have prioritized an extension for Miller earlier.
Watt signed his extension in 2014. The Texans could afford to focus on that because they did not have that many key players entering free agency in 2015.
Here is a list of those players. You’ll notice that the only player on that list who stands out as someone to prioritize retaining is offensive tackle Derek Newton, and he’s not necessarily somebody to give the franchise tag. Indeed, the Texans extended him. They also extended Kareem Jackson, a good player but probably not a player whose retention was urgent. And the extended inside linebacker Akiem Dent, who has a low-cost deal, so he wasn’t considered a top player at his position.
Compare that to the Broncos in the past two seasons. In 2014, the Broncos were in talks with Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas about extensions, while keeping Chris Harris in the back of their minds. DT was considered a top-five receiver, JT would be comparable to Kareem Jackson, while Harris was coming off an injury and could go either the priority route or the Kareem Jackson route. By the end of the season, the Broncos saw Harris as a priority to re-sign. They viewed DT the same way and opted for the franchise tag, but decided to let JT walk. But with that said, the Broncos had two players they clearly prioritized in retaining (Harris and DT), as opposed to the Texans, who had one after Watt (Newton).
Now move forward to the 2015 season, in which the Broncos had to consider not only extensions for Miller, but Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Brock Osweiler and Danny Trevathan. Miller’s off-field issues were behind him, so he became a priority. Who else would be a priority among the other four depended a lot on what each of them did during the 2015 season. Over time, it became clear the Broncos would like to keep both Wolfe and Jackson, but understood they might only keep one. That player was Wolfe, while Jackson sought more money than the Broncos were willing to pay. Osweiler remained a priority, but the money he got from the Texans was clearly more than the Broncos were willing to pay. Meanwhile, Trevathan was a player the Broncos likely accepted losing, given that with so many key players entering free agency, they wouldn’t be able to keep them all.
So the Broncos placed the tag on Miller while they made last-minute pushes for Jackson and Osweiler, but fell out of the running. I think it’s safe to say the Broncos viewed Wolfe and Jackson this way: One would be Derek Newton, the other would be Kareem Jackson. Meanwhile, they likely viewed Osweiler closer to Newton given that Osweiler was a quarterback, but the Broncos had their limits as to how high they would go.
But… and here’s a key point to remember… had Wolfe, Jackson, Osweiler and Trevathan all still had one year remaining on their contracts, Miller would be the only priority to re-sign. The Broncos weren’t going to beat down the doors to keep players such as David Bruton, Ryan Harris, Evan Mathis and others who departed, even if we may have liked them. If Miller was the only player to urgently extend, the Broncos could channel all their energies into that.
We know that John Elway tries to get the best value possible out of players, too. But if he only had to worry about Miller, he might have been able to keep the wheels turning in negotiations, rather than a pattern of where the wheels turn, but stop moving at times. As it was, he had to negotiate with other players, too, and that meant he couldn’t focus solely on Miller. So it was one reason (but not the only one) that Elway just put the tag on Miller.
When the Broncos enter the 2017 offseason, things will be different, assuming Miller signs his extension. They’ll be talking to Emmanuel Sanders, who is arguably like Newton: A priority player who isn’t worth the franchise tag. Guys like Sylvester Williams will fall into the Kareem Jackson category: They want them back, but don’t consider it urgent.
Sure, it would have been nice to have extended Miller earlier. But when you have a lot of players you’d like to keep, you have to make decisions on whose extension talks to prioritize. Just ask yourself what might have happened with the Texans and Watt if the Texans found themselves with other players for whom extensions were high priorities.