BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A year ago, the Buffalo Bills sat at home watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. This year, they saw the Los Angeles Rams swarm Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to clinch a title.
The takeaway: Pressuring the quarterback is imperative to reaching that elusive Lombardi Trophy.
In the 2021 draft, the Bills selected a defensive end in the first and second rounds. Then the season ended for a second straight year with a loss at Arrowhead Stadium. The team still lacked a dynamic pass-rusher to dominate the line of scrimmage, despite Buffalo finishing with the No. 1 defense and generating pressure at the second-highest rate in the NFL (34% of dropbacks).
Enter two-time Super Bowl champion Von Miller.
Already considered the favorites to win the Super Bowl, the Bills added one of the best pass-rushers in NFL history and the active career sacks leader (115.5). Miller could be the missing piece the Bills defense needs to complete a championship run in what is set up to be an AFC stacked with elite quarterbacks. Not bad for the first official day of the league year.
“It’s been crazy, man,” Miller said in an Instagram video that has since been removed. “Crazy four hours, going back and forth, man. A lot of things that I love in L.A., but I just wanted to let you know I’m coming to Buffalo. Bills Mafia, what’s good? Is [No.] 40 open?”
The Bills agreed to terms with Miller on a six-year, $120 million contract that includes $51.5 million fully guaranteed with $45 million fully guaranteed at signing, sources told ESPN. That guarantee is nearly double the amount of any other current contract signed by a defensive player in their 30s.
General manager Brandon Beane did something he doesn't normally do: Sign a big-time player to a contract that has the potential to push money down the road. Buffalo typically sticks to smaller, more cost-effective free-agency signings.
“I'm always going to put resources in the front [seven]. It's just how I believe it should be built,” Beane said earlier this offseason. “And don't ever be shocked if you see us trying to add there, free agency or the draft, at any point.”
The Bills have invested heavily in their front seven. Miller will join first-round picks Ed Oliver -- coming off the best season of his career -- and Greg Rousseau, still developing second-round picks AJ Epenesa and Boogie Basham, and free-agent additions DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle.
Throughout the 2021 season, the Bills lacked a consistent pass-rusher despite being the league’s No. 1 pass defense (allowing 12 passing touchdowns, five fewer than any other team). Miller had 41 pressures last season, which would have been the most on the Bills. Free agent Jerry Hughes led the Bills with 37 last season.
Against Mahomes in their last two playoff losses, the Bills contacted the quarterback on just 16.7% of dropbacks and registered three combined sacks. Miller’s 18 pressures in the postseason with the Rams limited quarterbacks to a 0.7 total QBR on those plays.
By adding the soon-to-be 33-year-old, Buffalo is aiming to take an already strong defense to the next level.
With arguably the NFL's best safety duo in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, the only real concern on this defense is at cornerback. The Bills lost starter Levi Wallace in free agency to Pittsburgh and Tre'Davious White is returning from a torn ACL. The position is arguably the biggest concern on the roster, but there’s time to address that in both the draft (the Bills have nine picks) and the rest of free agency.
While signing Miller helps keep pace in the AFC -- hello, Russell Wilson -- it also adds a leader with extensive Super Bowl experience. Miller and new tight end O.J. Howard are now the only players on the Bills roster with Super Bowl rings, and Miller has been recognized from his limited time with the Rams as making a significant impact on the team’s mindset and focus on earning that title. Miller's previous teams have won seven straight playoff games.
The message from the Miller signing is clear.
It’s Super Bowl-or-bust time in Buffalo.