Miller’s contract might be the biggest obstacle in the Broncos’ pursuit of Cousins

Jan 28, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; AFC outside linebacker Von Miller of the Denver Broncos (58) celebrates on becoming an MVP in the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For the record, the Denver Broncos would not own three Lombardi Trophies without the services of Von Miller. The Broncos wouldn’t have beaten Tom “G.O.A.T.” Brady or Cam “Superman” Newton en route to a Super Bowl 50 victory that propelled the already historic franchise into one of the NFL’s elite.

Von Miller is unquestionably the best player on the Broncos roster, the face of the franchise and a dynamic, well-liked personality across the NFL. In theory, you simply can’t put a price on that kind of player. But in the NFL, everything, even once-in-a-generation players, comes with a price. One that the Broncos might have paid just a little bit too much for.

Miller’s production on the statsheet an in analytics prove that he is and continues to be one of the NFL’s true elite players. In return for his elite level of the play, the Broncos awarded Miller a 6-year, $114.5 million contract extension following the 2015 Super Bowl. At the time, this seemed like a massive victory for the Broncos, who saved themselves from letting their face of the franchise player walk out the door. But now, as the Broncos begin to move on after sweeping up the disaster that the 2017 season was, Miller’s massive contact size is an obstacle that the Broncos must now overcome on the cusp of a rebuild.

With a cap hit of $22.5 million for the upcoming 2018 season, Miller’s contract has more of an impact on the team’s salary cap than all but four starting quarterbacks in the NFL based on contracts for the 2017 season. Miller’s 2018 cap hit will be higher than: Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, or Ben Roethlisberger’s respective cap numbers for the 2017 season. This is a clear indication that the Broncos are paying their star pass rusher more money than other NFL teams are paying the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Miller is taking up cap space that most other teams are allotting for their franchise quarterback.

In a way, the Broncos were backed into a corner when it came to Miller’s contract extension. While many were quick to point out that the Broncos were paying Miller quarterback-type money, his dominant performance in Super Bowl 50 proved that he can take over a game — almost the same way a Pro Bowl quarterback can.. almost. On the heels of a 5-11 season, it’s evident that Miller — who doesn’t have the ball in his hands — truly can’t produce wins for the Broncos on his own the same way like quarterbacks can. The experiment is over — the Broncos simply cannot be competitive with a star pass rusher and mediocre quarterback play.

If the Broncos, in a scenario that would never happen, but simply to give an example of having a player with similar cap figures, were to trade Miller for any of the aforementioned quarterbacks, would they still have been a 5-11 team? It’s highly unlikely. While many fans and teammates would miss Miller’s presence on and off the field, having Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers lining up under center would almost guarantee the Broncos would have, at minimum, been in the playoff race instead of racing to the offseason for a chance to rebuild.

At the dawn of the 2018 season, the Broncos have an opportunity to obtain a franchise quarterback via free agency, with the team zeroing in on former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been linked to Denver ever since the season ended. However, in a stunning turn of events reported by Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller on Monday morning, Cousins is “reportedly deciding between the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings” as free agency draws near. If the report turns out to be true, the Broncos won’t even get an opportunity to convince Cousins to make the Mile High City his next home.

While it’s easy to see the Vikings, who were one game away from a Super Bowl appearance, as a reasonable destination for Cousins, a team like the Jets, who finished with a similar record as the Broncos, comes as more of a surprise. But it makes much more sense when one considers the Jets have one thing the Broncos don’t: money.

The Jets are projected to have $90.5 million in cap space, more than enough to pay Cousins anything he asks for, while also easily outbidding the Broncos, who are sitting on only $23.8 million in cap space. In order to even come close to what the Jets could offer Cousins, the Broncos would need to cut several players and restructure multiple contracts, while playing around with Miller’s massive contract number.

A once-in-a-generation player, Miller won’t be — and shouldn’t be — leaving Denver anytime soon. But while that remains the case, the Broncos will need to find a way to balance their salary cap delicately, while paying quarterback-type money to Miller and to whomever they find as their next franchise quarterback.

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