Ranking the 5 Best Fits for Von Miller If Released by the Denver Broncos in 2021
With five weeks remaining in the 2020 NFL season, many franchises (and fanbases) still have their eyes on the playoffs. However, you can bet that members of all 32 organizations are already digging into their options for 2021 free agency.
With notable names such as Allen Robinson II, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Matthew Judon and Brandon Scherff scheduled to hit the open market, free agency won't be short on talent. Eight-time Pro Bowler Von Miller could join the talent pool if the Denver Broncos decide not to exercise their club option for the 2021 season.
Why would Denver part with a premium pass-rusher in Miller—a three-time All-Pro with 106 career sacks? There are a couple of reasons. For one, Miller has missed the entire campaign with an ankle injury, and the Broncos have still produced 31 sacks.
Secondly, Denver could save $17.5 million in base salary by letting Miller go. Since the Broncos are projected to have just over $21 million in cap space, the added room could make them major players in free agency.
The question, then, is this: If Denver decides not to exercise its club option, where might Miller land? Here, we'll examine five prime spots based on factors such as need, scheme fit, cap space and playoff potential.
While Miller hasn't indicated he wants to chase another ring, it's often a priority for players entering the twilights of their careers.
5. Denver Broncos
If the Broncos want Miller to return in 2021, they can simply exercise their option and keep him. It's that simple. However, even if Denver opts out of the deal, there's still a chance Miller could return on a more team-friendly pact.
A return might make sense for Miller, who has played his entire pro career in Denver. He's familiar with the team and with the system. However, as The Athletic's Lindsay Jones recently pointed out, Miller may not be particularly eager to take a pay cut.
"Unless Miller is so determined to remain in Denver that he'd do so at a much reduced salary, I would expect him to be playing elsewhere next year," Jones wrote.
The bottom line is that Miller can still be a valuable edge-rusher—assuming he fully recovers from ankle surgery—and will command a lot of market attention. Miller will turn 32 in March and won't have too many more opportunities to earn a hefty free-agent contract, so this might be his last shot at a substantial payday.
At least in the short term, Miller isn't going to get a raise with Denver if he's released and re-signed. Therefore, unless Miller is committed to playing out his career with the Broncos, this is probably the least likely of his realistic options.
4. New York Jets
The New York Jets are going to come up often as a potential landing spot for pending free agents. There are two big reasons for this. One is that the Jets are 0-11 and in line to have the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Presumably, the No. 1 pick will be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He is a generational talent who can revitalize the franchise, and the allure of playing with him could draw in quality free agents such as Miller.
Perhaps more importantly, the Jets are projected to have more than $82 million in cap space next season. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to have more, and they have a pair of young pass-rushers—and first-round picks—in Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson.
The Jets do not have a promising young edge-defender on their roster and could be inclined to spend big to get one.
It certainly feels like the Jets will have a coaching change at season's end, so it's impossible to predict how next year's scheme might play into Miller's decision. If he is strictly looking for a big payday, however, New York will be a logical destination. If he is seeking to cash in and get back to the postseason, the Jets will likely fall behind the next three teams on our list.
3. Miami Dolphins
If Miller wants to get paid and have a crack at the postseason next year, another AFC East team could top his list. The Miami Dolphins are 7-4, they have a defensive-minded head coach in Brian Flores, and they're projected to have more than $35 million in cap space.
The Dolphins also have a promising, albeit unproven, young quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa.
Just as importantly, Miami would offer Miler the chance to play his home games in sunny South Florida (no state income tax!), which could appeal to the aging star.
The Dolphins have a need for a pass-rusher of Miller's pedigree—they have just 25 sacks this season—but aren't talent-starved on that side of the ball. With standouts Christian Wilkins, Xavien Howard, Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy, Miller would be surrounded by premium talent.
Miller would also benefit from having a capable if not elite running mate in pass-rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. Presumably, Miller would take over for Shaq Lawson as the primary pass-rusher opposite Ogbah, with Lawson moving into more of a rotational role.
Miami can offer Miller more financial security than Denver is likely to give and provide a better chance at a quick postseason return than the Jets. There are two potentially better fits for Miller to consider, however, if he gets to choose his next team.
2. Seattle Seahawks
Miller knows a little something about playing with a future Hall of Fame quarterback. He was Super Bowl MVP in the 2015 season, when Peyton Manning helped orchestrate Denver's run to the championship game—but the Broncos haven't had a star at the position or made a playoff appearance since.
By joining the Seattle Seahawks, Miller could again play with a future Hall of Famer in Russell Wilson, which would make for a nice change.
"He's a great player. He's an elite player. He's going to get out of the pocket," Miller said in 2018, per Jon Heath of Broncos Wire. "... I still don't like playing against Russell."
Seattle could use another pass-rusher in its front seven. This year's midseason acquisition of Carlos Dunlap has helped—the Seahawks are tied with the Broncos for seventh in the league with 31 sacks—but the defense still ranks dead-last with 328.8 passing yards allowed per game.
Pairing Miller with Dunlap could help Seattle to cover up some of the warts in its secondary. Miller would likely line up opposite Dunlap as a situational rusher and a hybrid end-linebacker when the unit moves into a 46 or "bear" front.
While the Seahawks aren't expected to be loaded with cap room—they're projected to have more than $15 million—they shouldn't be strapped either. Seattle should be able to give Miller a fair deal while also providing him an opportunity to chase a second Super Bowl ring.
1. Cleveland Browns
There are multiple reasons why the Cleveland Browns could be an ideal landing spot for Miller if he hits free agency. The first is that the Browns appear set to reach the playoffs for only the second time this century and could be attractive as a team on the rise.
Secondly, Cleveland already has a star pass-rusher in Myles Garrett, who was on pace for 17 sacks before he landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list two weeks ago. It, however, is going to need a complement opposite him, as Olivier Vernon is playing on a restructured one-year deal. With Garrett—October's AFC Defensive Player of the Month—drawing a ton of attention from opposing linemen, Miller could get the most one-on-one opportunities he has had in a while.
Joining the Browns would also allow Miller to reunite with defensive coordinator Joe Woods. He was the defensive coordinator for Denver in 2017 and 2018, when Miller amassed 24.5 sacks.
Lastly, Cleveland is projected to have more than $26 million in cap space, and it doesn't have any key players slated for free agency aside from Vernon and perhaps cornerback Kevin Johnson, linebacker B.J. Goodson and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. While the Browns may not be the highest bidders for Miller, they could certainly afford to pay him market value.
Cleveland would offer Miller a perfect combination of playoff potential, on-field opportunity, system familiarity and financial security. While other teams might offer more in any one of those areas, no team can compete with the Browns when all factors are considered.
Salary-cap and contract information via Spotrac.