Bills' premium for pass rusher Von Miller reflects cost of trying to win Super Bowl | Opinion

Jarrett Bell
USA TODAY
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Mamas, if your babies can’t grow up be quarterbacks ... then let them become monster pass rushers.

It can surely pay for the elite ones. That was so evident again this week with the opening of the NFL’s new league year, which paid a premium for the players who can chase (at minimum) or kill (a worst-case scenario) those precious quarterbacks.

Von Miller was introduced Thursday by the Buffalo Bills after signing a six-year, $120 million contract that guarantees $51 million.

This, after Chandler Jones bolted to the Las Vegas Raiders from the Arizona Cardinals for a deal that pays $52.5 million over three years with $34 million guaranteed.

Randy Gregory was poised to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys ... until something better came along from the Denver Broncos, to the tune of $70 million over five years.

The Los Angeles Chargers got busy, too, shipping second- and sixth-round picks to the Chicago Bears to obtain Khalil Mack. They picked up the final three years of the six-year, $141 million contract that Mack signed in 2018 and probably barely blinked in picking up the tab for a player who will line up opposite Joey Bosa to provide L.A. with one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing tandems.

It’s the cost of doing business in the pass-happy NFL. Every team desires a play-making quarterback with heart and a cannon arm. Yet to win big, every team needs a few behemoths to blow up the intricate designs of NFL passing games.

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Von Miller raises the  Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl 56.

“It’s clear. Other than the quarterbacks, where are you going to pay players?” Joby Branion, the agent who negotiated Miller’s new pact, told USA TODAY Sports. “You’re going to pay to protect the quarterbacks and you’ll pay to go after them.”

Branion rolled with such a reality while helping Miller, 32, navigate the market to land what could be his last mega contract. During the recent NFL combine, Branion communicated with 15 teams that were interested in Miller, whose résumé includes a Super Bowl MVP, eight Pro Bowl selections and 115½ career sacks. In the end, the decision came down to a choice between the Bills or staying put with the Los Angeles Rams for the mission of trying to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

Miller agonized over the decision. It was the first time in his NFL career, heading into Year 12, when he actually had the opportunity to choose his team. Thanks to the franchise tag, Miller never hit the market as a free agent during his Denver tenure, which lasted until last October when he was traded to the Rams. With the Rams’ final offer considered “close,” as Branion put it, Miller was torn.

“It’s definitely been a stressful process,” Miller told reporters at Bills headquarters. “It was tough. It came down to the very end.”

Miller heaped a lot of praise on the Rams, including bouquets for coach Sean McVay, GM Les Snead and D-coordinator Raheem Morris. “They rejuvenated me,” he said, referring to his revival after the midseason trade.

“Walking away from Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, who does that?” Miller added, alluding to his former Rams rush mates. “It had to be something special.” 

The Bills are on the brink (again) and for all of the progress in building the team under coach Sean McDermott, adding Miller might put them over the top as the AFC’s most formidable Super Bowl contender. They’ve added one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass rushers to a defense that ranked No. 1 overall last season. And with dynamic young quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo ranked third in 2021 for scoring offense, which undoubtedly can have an effect on Miller and the opportunities to tee off on opposing passers who will conceivably be pressed to keep up.

“They’re going to win a Super Bowl, with or without me,” Miller proclaimed.

His is certainly a credible voice when it comes to championship mettle. Miller has a chance to win a Super Bowl crown with a third team, knowing full well how defense factors into the equation.

When the Broncos demolished the Carolina Panthers to win Super Bowl 50, they were led by a dynamic defense that paired Miller with DeMarcus Ware as the edge rushers, while Peyton Manning played more of a supportive, minimize-the-risk role. The Rams identity may be built around McVay’s offense, yet the Super Bowl victory was secured in the end by a big-play defense led by Donald.

Asked whether he will share thoughts with his new teammates about what it will take to get over the hump, the gregarious Miller acknowledged that he is not prone to mince words. Yet rather than talk, he maintained, “I hope to lead by example.”

And there’s also the hope that Miller will be a significant difference-maker. You don’t have to remind McDermott about how the Super Bowl chase in the AFC has intensified with a flurry of moves this week.

Shortly after Miller met with the media, the Las Vegas Raiders had another stunning move in obtaining star receiver Davante Adams from the Packers, which potentially impacts the offense more than the major haul of landing Jones bolsters the defense. The Broncos, meanwhile, will have a new vibe with Russell Wilson.

Getting Miller is just one layer of what will be needed for the legit contenders to keep up.

“You’re seeing moves made to counter those moves,” McDermott said. “It’s a little bit of chess.”

Which in the NFL means trying to keep prolific quarterbacks in check.

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