The Broncos would get their Super Bowl MVP -- a premier, dynamic edge-rusher who is a cornerstone player in the team’s defense, the guy John Elway made the team’s first draft pick after he took his current job in 2011. Miller would get a substantial pile of life-changing cash as one of the league’s highest-paid players, or perhaps even the title of league's highest-paid defensive player, with the long-term security the contract would bring to go with the message that he is important to where the Broncos are going and what the team just did.
As the Broncos and Miller face a deadline that is essentially two weeks away -- July 15 -- money is, and always will be, the overriding issue. But there is a lot more along for the ride as well.
The overall contract money actually is pretty simple here: The two sides have largely agreed that a six-year deal for a total of $114.5 million is something each would sign. It’s a matter of how much, and how quickly, Miller would be paid the guaranteed money in that deal.
The Broncos' offer, which Miller and his representatives turned away last month, included $39.8 million guaranteed in the first two years -- $38.5 million guaranteed money at signing with $1.3 million in workout bonuses. The market, however, says the Broncos likely will have to move to a guarantee similar to Fletcher Cox’s six-year, $102.6 million deal with the Eagles. In that deal, Cox received $36.299 million in guaranteed money at signing and an additional $19.25 million in salary guarantees in March 2017, for $55.549 million in guarantees within nine months of signing.
But as the two sides argue about value and metrics and precedent and football and what that is all worth, there are other things in play in negotiations that have been more than a little testy at times. The biggest is whether anything fruitful will grow with the Broncos this season, or next season, if Miller and the team scorch too much of the earth in the next 15 days.
If Miller and the Broncos can’t come to a deal before July 15, that forces Miller into the choice of playing 2016 under the franchise-player tender -- a one-year, guaranteed salary of just over $14 million -- or sitting out most, or all, of the season in protest. That is a result neither side wants.
Already Miller has seen others (such as Cox and Olivier Vernon) with resumes that don't compare sign for better guaranteed money than he’s been offered by the Broncos. Many of his teammates, who certainly have their own business to worry about, have to wonder that if the team won’t dive in on a deal for Miller, does that mean the Broncos won't bring anybody back unless they get to "win" the negotiation?
So a no-deal stance on Miller could ripple through the Broncos’ locker room. Sure, players would be more concerned with their own problems and contracts, but a hold-the-line stance on Miller would require at least some attention from the team’s decision-makers in the aftermath.
And while Peyton Manning retired just after Super Bowl 50, his contract legacy lives on in that, in search of some salary-cap relief, the Broncos asked Manning to take a pay cut before the 2015 season, a pay cut that was eventually negotiated down to $4 million. Not lost among the Broncos players: If a Hall of Fame quarterback such as Manning was asked to take a financial haircut, the team will ask anybody to take one.
And that makes a player’s desire -- even that of a Super Bowl-MVP linebacker -- to get his guaranteed money more quickly all the more pronounced. They want to protect themselves against the take-the-cut talk later. And while a 27-year-old such as Miller doesn't want to sit out all or part of a season in his prime, he and his representatives will have to consider it.
For their part, as the Broncos have won five consecutive division titles, they’ve kept their salary cap in good enough shape to sign free agents they’ve wanted, going to two Super Bowls in three years and winning Super Bowl 50. So they’re doing something right -- a lot of things right -- and they've been right far more often than they've been wrong.
Miller has been suspended under the league’s drug policy, has had ACL surgery and admitted he had some maturity issues early in his career that he believes he’s grown from. Knowing that, the Broncos live in perpetual football fear that a player won’t improve after a mega-deal, or even maintain the level of play that got him the mega-deal. That is a fact of free-agency life.
Add it all up and harsh words have been spoken as the deadline approaches. If there is going to be a deal, some cooler heads first will have to appear before they can prevail.