BUFFALO, N.Y -- As Von Miller walked the carpeted halls of the Indiana Convention Center, eyes followed him. There was even a double take or two among those gathered for the NFL combine in late February. A conversation between the Buffalo Bills pass-rusher and two reporters was interrupted by several requests for pictures from young fans.
While seeing general managers and coaches at the combine is expected, current players rarely attend. When Tennessee Titans general manager Ran Carthon saw Miller in Indianapolis, he thought maybe he was doing something with the NFL Legends Community. But the 34-year-old Miller had his post-playing career on his mind.
He was in Indianapolis to learn more about what it means to be an NFL general manager. With agent Joby Branion's help and Bills general manager Brandon Beane's blessing, Miller spent two days meeting with several front-office personnel, including a former general manager, taking notes on his phone and picking their brains on what goes into their jobs -- everything from how the salary cap works to navigating the collective bargaining agreement to what goes into evaluating and selecting players in the draft.
"You gotta build relationships," Miller said of being a GM. "How do I know this guy's a great coach? How do I know he's a bad coach? How will he fit into my culture? What is my culture?"
Becoming a general manager isn't a new idea for the Super Bowl 50 MVP, who has been thinking about it since his days with the Denver Broncos.
But it was Beane who went out of his way and "watered my plant," as Miller described it. After hearing Miller's interest in becoming a GM, Beane encouraged him to attend the combine and learn from a variety of people. Beane also met with Miller there to touch base and answer questions.
Only three of the 32 team general managers have NFL playing experience: Martin Mayhew (Washington Commanders), John Lynch (San Francisco 49ers) and Carthon. Bears GM Ryan Poles signed with Chicago as an undrafted free agent out of Boston College but never made it to the regular season after being cut in training camp in 2008. Miller is aiming to be among the next players to make the transition.
"To take the next step, I want the people around me to know, like, OK, nothing was given to me. I worked," Miller said. "I evaluated these players, spent time with coaching, scouting department, spent time with the pro personnel guys ... I want to be in that position where I know my s---."
MANY PLAYERS MOVE to the coaching world after their playing careers are over -- but there are exceptions who join NFL front offices and excel, such as former tight end Ozzie Newsome, who rose up through the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens front offices to become the Ravens GM from 2002 to '18.
There isn't one path to becoming a general manager. In Beane's case, he worked his way up through the Carolina Panthers organization after starting as a public relations intern. Mayhew, after an eight-season career as a defensive back, completed his law degree and interned for the league office and Washington's personnel department. Carthon started as a pro scout for the Atlanta Falcons, while Lynch went from the broadcast booth to GM of the 49ers.
"When you're a player, you only have exposure to the coach, right? So, I think that's where the natural progression is for a guy to play, then go coach, because that's what you see," Carthon told ESPN. "Scouts aren't around much ... so the only front-office person that you get to see in most cases is the GM. And then I would say, because of the natural separation of that level of leadership, you don't have much interactions with the GM."
But Miller saw firsthand what it was like for a player to take on a general manager role. He was drafted in 2011 by the Broncos and was the first pick by Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-executive John Elway, one of the more well-known former players who transitioned into a top personnel decision-maker.
"Despite the challenges and despite it being a competitive market, despite the pressure, despite all the perceived negative things about the job, this is what I want," Miller said. "I like everything about it. I still want to be able to lead a team and be around guys and develop players."
How did Miller know he wanted to become a GM? He likened it to when he took a poultry science class at Texas A&M and realized he wanted to raise chickens.
"This is only the second time in my life where I had that feeling like, 'OK, this is what I want to do,'" Miller said.
Beane got to know Miller over casual conversations during training camp last year and then during the season concerning wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a former teammate of Miller's with the Los Angeles Rams and someone Buffalo brought in for a visit in December. That led to questions from the always inquisitive Miller about how the team would make that fit.
Beane noted a long meeting in his office with Miller following the linebacker's season-ending knee injury, suffered on Thanksgiving.
"He had his list of questions, and they were well crafted and just going beyond obvious surface-level GM questions," Beane said. "... I know if he's gonna take the time to do that, and he's taking notes while he is talking to me, that showed me ... It's easy to have a five-minute conversation or a 10-minute, but it was two-plus hours on a Saturday, so, I knew he was dead serious about doing it."
OUTSIDE OF HIS his time in Indy, Miller has taken advantage of opportunities to learn more from players-turned-GMs.
Miller is close to Lynch, whom he peppered with questions at one of quarterback Peyton Manning's Hall of Fame events, like what he liked most about the job and the most difficult parts. Miller and Mayhew are planning to talk at some point.
Former players-turned-GMs know what it's like to be cut, released or traded, which allows them to relate to current players in ways others can't.
"There's just a different cred when a guy's talking to him, because Von can tell him, 'Hey, I know what you're going through if you've suffered an injury and it's knocked you out of the season,'" Beane said. "... I can't say that to someone."
Carthon and Lynch said one reason more former players haven't been given chances in the front office is the perception they aren't willing to put in the work.
"There's a stigma that's attached to former players, whether you are a player like me who played for five teams in three years or if you're a Von Miller that we aren't willing to do the menial things," Carthon said. "And, you know, I think that's bulls---, because we come up, you know, we weren't all All-Americans and superstars out the gate."
Lynch echoed that, saying some decision-makers think players aren't humble enough to start at lower positions and work their way up, which Lynch described as "ludicrous."
"There's a lot that players have to offer, and so, I think it's a good thing for our league," Lynch said. "I think it's great to take care of our players, give them something to look forward to and direction."
ENTERING HIS SECOND season with the Bills -- and 13th in the NFL -- Miller's focus continues to be rehabbing from surgery following an ACL injury to his right knee. He's is on track with what's expected to be a nine-month recovery -- and becoming the first player to play in and win Super Bowls with three different teams.
In 2022, Miller signed a six-year deal worth up to $120 million with the Bills, and Miller said then he intends to play through that deal. He told ESPN that if he had it his way, "I would play to a point where my kids (Valor, 1, and Victory, 2 months) remember me playing." So he could be potentially be playing for several more seasons.
As for what Miller can do next to work toward his post-playing career goals, Carthon said asking to watch more film or helping on scouting reports is important. Lynch recommended jotting down notes of how he would do things (without taking it too far with looking ahead).
But as far as whether he'll eventually accomplish the goal Miller set for himself?
"Yeah, I do think he'll do it," Beane said. "To me, he could've had a meeting or two with me and then not brought it up again, and I mean, to me, he's dug deeper and deeper ... He's a competitive guy. He's always thinking about what's next."
Miller doesn't have any doubts.
"Hey, this is what I want to do," Miller told Beane. "This is my dream."