ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- On a hectic day of roster cutdowns around the league, no position group on the Buffalo Bills was impacted more than the pass-rushers.
Von Miller will remain on the reserve/physically unable to perform list as he works his way back from surgery on his right ACL, while the team decided to move on from 2021 second-round pick Boogie Basham by trading him to the New York Giants along with a 2025 seventh-round pick for a 2025 sixth-rounder. General manager Brandon Beane described both moves as “very tough.”
“Debated round and round a little bit but ultimately, long season and we want Von for the stretch run,” Beane said of keeping Miller on the PUP list. “As I said before, he’s trending up and I think it was a chance he would have been practicing soon, kind of working his way but he’s not quite there."
Investing in the defensive line, especially the pass-rushers, has been a focus for the Bills over the last few years. In addition to signing Miller and Leonard Floyd as free agents, the group drafted Greg Rousseau (first round, 2021), AJ Epenesa (second round, 2020) and Shaq Lawson (first round, 2016).
Kingsley Jonathan, a 2022 undrafted free agent out of Syracuse, also made the initial Bills roster this year after a strong training camp and preseason.
Even without Miller for an unknown amount of games, there’s confidence in the depth of the group.
“Man, I think it's the deepest room that I've been in since I've been in the league with just all the talent we got,” Rousseau told ESPN. “You see what Kingsley's doing, what he's been doing during the preseason, just guys that could play inside out, all over. So, it's a deep room and I'm excited for us to get the opportunity to go out there and showcase when it's live.”
When that time comes in less than two weeks against the New York Jets on "Monday Night Football," the Bills will look to this group to complement a talented interior defensive line.
“It's obviously great when we have [Miller] out there cause he's just such a rare talent and a rare specimen of an athlete ... but this is our chance to kind of set our feet in as well,” Epenesa told ESPN. “We have an opportunity to make some big plays against some big opponents coming up."
Miller will miss at minimum the first four games of the season -- at the Jets and Washington Commanders, at home against the Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins. That’s at least two games against AFC East opponents in what should be a very competitive division. The first game when Miller could possibly return is Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
“I think we'll just take that when we get there,” Beane said on Miller's possible return after four games. “We'll see where he's at and see where we're at and what we need and, if he's confident and ready to roll and we feel he's had enough, in pads, because he's not gonna be able to wear pads in practice until then, so, that would probably be a decision we'd have to make that week.”
Miller, 34, agreed to a six-year, $120 million contract in 2022. This is not Miller’s first time dealing with a major ACL injury. In 2013 with the Denver Broncos, he tore his left ACL but returned for the start of the 2014 season.
“[In 2013] I wanted to get back as fast as possible and play and show guys you don't need to take nine months to recover from ACL. But goals are different now,” Miller said in May. “I want to be here for my team when they need me the most."
Despite playing in only 11 games last season, Miller finished the season tied for the team lead in sacks (eight) with Rousseau and led the team with 38 pressures.
Miller also finished with the best pass rush win rate (23.6%) and pressure percentage (14.5%) on the roster.
The Bills are confident that when Miller is ready to step back on the field, he will make the defense that much better.
“It doesn't really matter how much time he misses to us, cause like he's gonna come back whenever he's ready and honestly, if it takes extra games for him to get ready, I think that'll be, I feel like that's the best course of action,” Rousseau said. “We want to have Von in the later part of the season, playoffs."
With Miller on the field last year, the Bills’ four-man pass rush was more effective with a pressure percentage of 29.6% (fifth) versus 25.1% (22nd) without him.
With Miller, the Bills had the sixth-best pressure percentage and 10th-best sack percentage. After he was injured (including playoffs), their pressure percentage dropped to 19th and their sack percentage to 20th.
But the Bills were able to limit opposing offenses in some ways without Miller. Opposing quarterback ratings dropped from 51.3 with Miller on the field to 35.4 without him. In the running game, yards per rush decreased from 4.8 to 4.
The offseason afforded the Bills time to prepare for a defense without Miller. Floyd, who finished the last three seasons with nine or more sacks, brings a talented veteran presence to the room after signing a one-year, $7 million deal.
Beane said Floyd had "showed he can get after the passer" during the preseason.
He is in line to start opposite Rousseau, although the Bills use heavy rotations. Rousseau and Epenesa expect to bring more to the Bills defense.
“I feel like I improved pretty much in all parts of my game,” said Rousseau, who Beane said had a really good camp. “I've been a lot more intentional with everything, and I just gotta keep on making jumps year to year. Just keep on getting better and stay far away from being stagnant.”