Is Broncos Country witnessing Von Miller’s last stand in Denver?
Von Miller’s legacy is secure.
Even if Miller never played another game in a Denver Broncos uniform, he would rightly be considered the best defensive player in team history — and that history includes Hall-of-Famers in Steve Atwater and Champ Bailey, and Ring-of-Famers in Karl Mecklenburg, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Billy Thompson and Louis Wright. Miller’s impact over the course of his now-10th season as a Bronco will become the bar by which all other Broncos will be measured.
One day, Miller’s bust will reside in Canton, too. The Broncos’ all-time sack leader has already cemented a Hall-of-Fame career. The only question left to answer is: Will he finish it in a Broncos uniform?
An unrestricted free agent after the season, the 32-year-old Miller only returned for the 2021 campaign when he forced new general manager George Paton to blink first. The Broncos had designs on reducing Miller’s $22.2 million cap hit last spring, but Miller instead issued an ultimatum: Either pay him the money in the contract that was agreed upon or release him. Certainly, the Broncos considered the latter, especially since Miller had a down year (by his standards) in 2019, and missed all of the 2020 season with an injured ankle. The decision would have been defensible, if unpopular, but Paton didn’t make it, choosing to side with Miller and leave his contract untouched.
That’s proven to be the right choice, even though Miller, who once again leads the team with 4.5 sacks — more than twice as many as anyone else on the roster — has been suffering through the same malaise that has plagued the Broncos during their embarrassing, three-game losing streak.
He plans on ending that Thursda, in the Broncos’ must-win road game against the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s on me. I’ve played in all types of games, and I’ve performed well in all types of games. I have to play well in this game — I will play well in this game. I’m going to go off; it’s going to be a good game for me,” Miller said on Tuesday. “I don’t want to guarantee a win for my teammates; I don’t want to put the pressure on those guys. I want to put the pressure on me. I’m going to have a great game; I’m going to go out there and play well and get a couple of sacks. If I can do that, then we’ll win. If you look at this season, in the first three games, I had a couple sacks and we won those games. These last three games, I didn’t do as much. If I can play well, get sacks and find a way to disrupt the game, we’ll win. The pressure is on me to play well; I will play well. I don’t know who the tackle is that I’m going against, but I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him, and the other guy on the other side. I’m going to play extremely well; I’m going to make plays for my team. I’m going to set us up to win this game.”
Miller, ever the happy warrior, chuckled through much of his proclamation. He obviously meant some of that in jest, but definitely not all of it.
According to Pro Football Focus, Miller grades out as the Broncos’ best player — on defense, offense or special teams. Numero uno. He’s looked like it, too.
But at times, you wouldn’t ever suspect that the unassuming, bespectacled Texas native was still a walking, talking nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators. Miller isn’t the fire-breathing type. He’s the rah-rah type; the cheerleader, the hype man; roles in which he’s been perfectly comfortable while he’s been busy sacking quarterbacks 111 different times.
This week feels different. Miller knows that the Broncos’ chips are down and that his clock is ticking, so he chose to speak up.
“You just feel it and it’s genuine,” Miller explained. “This time, when Thursday night comes around, I want to put it on me — I wanted to put the pressure on me. If it’s all on me, then I can control that. I can control it, I can handle it, and I can make (stuff) happen like that.”
After Thursday’s game, it’s likely that one of the greatest-ever Broncos will be down to the final 10 games of his Denver career. Miller hasn’t given up on winning another Super Bowl, but under the current, hapless administration, that’s almost certainly not in the cards — and there’s little doubt that he knows it.
If, indeed, this week marks the beginning of Miller’s last stand as a Bronco, he won’t be going down without a fight… and a trademark grin. “It’s football.”
Shawn Drotar (@sdrotar) is the on-air host of “Sandy and Shawn;” weeknights from 9p-midnight on 104.3 The Fan.