The Denver Broncos' strength on defense for years has been rushing the passer, so the team is keeping star linebacker Von Miller to attack opposing quarterbacks.
The Broncos confirmed they placed the exclusive franchise tag on Miller on Tuesday. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports and Albert Breer of NFL Network first reported the news, noting the exclusive franchise-tag figures are dependent on the current year's numbers, so the Broncos won't know exactly how much Miller will be paid until after the restricted free-agency tender period.
Playing out the final year of his rookie contract in 2015, Miller was tremendous for the Broncos. The 26-year-old recorded 11 sacks, which marked the fourth time in five seasons he's broken the double-digit barrier, and four forced fumbles.
During Denver's run to a third Super Bowl title, Miller was a man possessed. Cameron Wolfe of the Denver Post provided the statistical evidence:
Cameron Wolfe @CameronWolfe
In the last two games, the biggest of his life, Von Miller has 5 sacks, 6 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles and an interceptions. Pay the man.2016-2-8 05:32:34
Since entering the NFL as part of the star-studded 2011 draft class of pass-rushers, Miller and J.J. Watt have separated themselves from the pack:
|Von Miller vs. Pass-Rushers from 2011 Draft|
|Player||Sacks||Sacks Per Game||Forced Fumbles|
|J.J. Watt (Houston)||74.5||0.93||15|
|Justin Houston (KC)||56||0.8||8|
|Robert Quinn (LA)||50||0.7||17|
|Aldon Smith (Oakland)||47.5||0.81||6|
|Ryan Kerrigan (Washington)||47.5||0.59||17|
Following Miller's incredible run in the postseason, when you could practically hear extra zeroes getting added to his salary, the franchise tag became the Broncos' best bet to retain their star edge-rusher without having to worry about him leaving.
Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported on February 16 the Broncos were expected to use their franchise tag on Miller with the hope of striking a long-term deal this offseason.
Getting franchised is not the worst thing that could happen to Miller, who would receive an estimated guaranteed salary of just over $14 million for 2016, per Renck, but Denver's bigger objective is securing his future at a fair rate given his high level of production.
The market for dominant edge-rushers has exploded recently. Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs gave Justin Houston a six-year deal worth up to $101 million ($52.5 million guaranteed).
Miller is viewed highly around the league for his consistent level of production, which NFL Network's Rand Getlin talked about on NFL HQ last October (via Ian McCue of 247Sports).
"When you talk to folks about Von Miller, you can fully expect that this guy is going to vie for the highest-paid defensive player contract in the history of the NFL," Getlin said. "So look for this guy to get a contract at the end of the year in excess of $60 million guaranteed or around there."
The new deal for Miller is an important step for the Broncos, who face an uncertain offseason. Their quarterback situation appears to be in a state of transition with Peyton Manning's age (40 on March 24) and Brock Osweiler's rookie deal expiring.
Denver's front office did get ahead of the curve with its defensive free agents, inking defensive end Derek Wolfe to a four-year extension in January.
The Broncos have holes to fill, but keeping one of the NFL's best pass-rushers is a good way to hide flaws in other areas.
Miller's deal is the next big step to help ensure the Broncos are able to keep their place atop the AFC West and make another run at the Super Bowl.