- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
In the end, the Denver Broncos needed a little more time to think, a little more time to wait and see on linebacker Von Miller, and a little more wiggle room when it comes to long-term deals and who gets them in the coming months.
The Broncos picked up the fifth-year option on Miller's deal Thursday. As part of the 2011 draft class, the first under the rookie wage scale included in the collective bargaining agreement, teams have the option of engaging a fifth-year option in the contracts for the players selected in the first round of that draft.
The decision had to be made by Saturday, and the salary, for the 2015 season, is not guaranteed until the start of the new league year next March. Had the Broncos not exercised the option, Miller would have been slated to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season.
The move was not a slam dunk, but it was the most prudent move with little risk for the team.
For the first 10 picks of the 2011 draft -- Miller was the No. 2 pick after Cam Newton -- the salary for the option year is this year's transition tag salary in free agency at the players' respective positions. The figure is calculated as an average of the top 10 salaries at those spots. For Miller, that would mean a $9.754 million salary, guaranteed, if he's on the roster when the new league year begins next March.
It means the Broncos can now turn their attention to long-term deals for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, who can become unrestricted free agents after the '14 season. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has already said he would like both with the team for the long haul.
Adding some kind of negotiation with Miller to that mix would have been difficult in terms of both the upfront money and salary-cap space. With Miller's option, the Broncos have 27 players with contracts that include the 2015 season.
Had the Broncos not exercised the option until the end of the '14 season, they could have used the franchise tag to keep Miller in place for '15.
The Broncos have seen both sides of Miller over the past three seasons. Many in the building will closely monitor how things go on and off the field with Miller. The team's decision-makers must weigh what kind of commitment they will make to him after the next two seasons. Miller had the look of a franchise player his first two years with 30 sacks, including 18.5 in 2012 when the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt kept Miller from being a front-runner for the league's defensive player of the year.
But a bumpy ride in 2013 had Elway saying in recent weeks he hoped Miller could “put last year behind him and get back to being the player, the Von Miller, we know he can be.''
Miller opened the 2013 season with a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy -- a violation the league's policy says subjects him to testing up to 10 times a month for the rest of his career. He had several other off-the-field issues, as well, including an arrest last summer on a failure-to-appear warrant and several traffic violations.
On the field, Miller suffered a torn ACL against the Texans in December, and some with the team took note when he tried to attend a Seattle Seahawks victory party after the Broncos' 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.
There is also the matter of what kind of player Miller will look like when he returns to the field. Most of the Broncos' decision-makers and Miller's teammates see him as a special talent when he weighs between 246 pounds -- his weight at the 2011 scouting combine -- and 255 pounds -- his weight during the 2012 season.
But even before his suspension last year, Miller said he had made the decision to get bigger, to try to add more power to his game. Miller said then he was just more than 260 pounds when the Broncos gathered for their offseason program a year ago. By the time he returned from his suspension in October, he said he was just more than 270 pounds.
While he flashed disruptive play following his return from suspension last season, many personnel executives around the league, and many with the Broncos, said Miller wasn't consistently the same player as he had been the year before. Miller trained on his own during his suspension. He finished with five sacks in nine games before suffering the torn ACL.
The Broncos, like all of the teams that have exercised these options on the '11 first-rounders, had a low-risk way to give themselves more time to make a big decision down the road.
And they used it.