Von Miller will wear franchise tag before long-term deal

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The free-agency dance the Denver Broncos are about to do with linebacker Von Miller is a familiar one.

Since John Elway began calling the football shots, when the Broncos want to keep their most prominent free agent on the roster they have followed the same step-by-step procedure.

Miller should get ready to wear the franchise player tag. Because Elway has used the franchise player tag three times in the last four years and the Broncos then used that time to sign all three players -- kicker Matt Prater, left tackle Ryan Clady and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas -- to long-term contracts before training camp opened.

Miller, the Super Bowl MVP, would easily be the most sought-after free agent if he hit the market.

"The goal is always to get a long-term deal," Elway said, when asked about re-signing Miller. "But, again, that goes back into the same old process of trying to include everybody in what we're looking at and looking at it from the 20,000-foot view of how this team is going to look, not only next year but two or three years down the line. As you know, our goal is always to be competitive year-in and year-out, and that's what we want to do."

The Broncos will choose either the exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tag on Miller. The exclusive tag would prevent Miller's representatives from negotiating with any other team and would guarantee Miller a one-year contract for the average of the top five salaries at his position or 120 percent of his previous year's salary, whichever is higher.

The non-exclusive tag also guarantees the designated player the average of the top five players at his position, but uses a five-year collection of data to get to the number. In this case, the player can negotiate with other teams, but the Broncos would have the right to match any contract offer to Miller or receive two first-round picks if they did not match.

The non-exclusive tag is the most commonly used. This year the franchise player salary for linebacker is expected to be more than $14 million, while defensive end would be about $15.5 million. Feb. 16 is the first day teams can designate franchise players and the deadline to use the tag is 4 p.m. ET March 1 .

Miller, who was Elway's first draft pick, is a cornerstone player as a Super Bowl MVP and a four-time Pro Bowl selection. Miller has also rebounded from his 2013 suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy and has fulfilled the program's obligations. He was cleared from the program before the 2015 season, which meant Miller was no longer subject to increased testing and not subject to punishment for repeat offenders.

"He's matured," Elway said. "I think he's grown up quite a bit. I think it's a compliment to him and the people around him with some of the things that he had to go through when he was younger. He's grown up tremendously. ... It was a matter of him channeling all of his talents in the right way and I think you saw him do that this year. He picked up momentum and the bigger that the game got, the bigger he played. I couldn't be happier for Von."

Miller's consistently said he'd leave the negotiations in the hands of his representatives, but expects the process to "be peaceful." However, he will command a deal north of $100 million if it's a six-year contract. Justin Houston signed a $101 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs last summer.

If the Broncos follow the template, they would try to sign Miller to a long-term deal before training camp.

In 2012 the Broncos used the tag on kicker Matt Prater in March and signed him to a four-year, $13 million deal in July. In 2013, the Broncos tagged offensive tackle Ryan Clady in March and then signed him to a five-year, $52.5 million deal less than 24 hours before the deadline to sign players with the franchise tag.

And last year the Broncos tagged receiver Demaryius Thomas in March and signed him to a five-year, $70 million deal before training camp. The lone wrinkle would be Clady and Thomas, on the advice of their agents and to the slight frustration of the Broncos, skipped the team's offseason program before signing their long-term deals.