DENVER • Hey, I don’t like the idea, either.
Trading Von Miller in the prime of his Hall of Fame career sounds as fun as divorce. But if Chris Harris Jr. is right, and the star cornerback has eight years of business experience from which to draw, the number of Broncos who are safe during a franchise rebuild equals their playoff berths lately. Zero.
“I expect everybody to be gone, really,” Harris said Monday as players reacted to the Broncos firing Vance Joseph to begin what promises to be an eventful offseason of major personnel moves. “I expect probably to have two or three vets on the team and we’ll keep moving like that. That’s how I see it. I see it as a big rebuild coming on. I see a big tidal wave coming.”
Waking up the Broncos will take more than a splash of water. If the Broncos do it right, it’s going to take a high pain threshold. Moving on from Miller and the $52 million he’s still owed should be considered only in case of emergency. He’s everything you want in the face of a franchise. But when only three teams show a worse record than 17-28 since October 2016, you qualify as a state of emergency.
Don’t take my word for it. Did the man who named the “No Fly Zone” sound like a guy who’s fired up for a long rebuild ahead?
“It’s late in my career and I can’t waste any years anymore. It’s time for me to win,” Harris said in a series of knowledge bombs from one of the smartest guys in the room. “I always wanted to retire here and finish my career here, but I’m ready to see what changes and things we do.”
Dang, this is going to hurt. Winning a championship and hosting a parade connects a fan base with its players in a way that has no rival. As Derek Wolfe left Mile High for what might be the final time Sunday, flinging a wristband into the South Stands and into the hands of a little kid, there was real love in the air. When Miller says once a week how much he appreciates Broncos Country, it’s more than a nice guy being a nice guy. It’s the truth.
If we’re power ranking the reasons the Broncos are hunting their fourth coach in six years, Miller wouldn’t crack the top 100. From his big-hearted Von’s Vision to 38 sacks over the past three years, Miller’s gone about making $90 million the old-fashioned way. He’s earned it.
Ouch. When you actually type those names onto the screen, it’s no joke. It’s painful to even think about. Plus, watching a No. 58 jersey in Packers gold or Cowboys blue would make Colorado feel all queasy.
But the Broncos need to plan for the next 12 years, not the next two. Pretending their title window is still open is what put them in this ugly spot in the first place. Now we’ve seen what a Von Miller-Bradley Chubb combo gets when there are too many holes elsewhere: 26.5 sweet sack dances and … 6 wins, 10 losses and another round of pink slips. Unless John Elway finds a quarterback as he shakes the trees at Dove Valley, the best years of Von’s Broncos are over. Ouch again. But the Broncos must find a franchise quarterback and a bunch of linemen/cornerbacks/linebackers to make sure their best days aren’t over. Think long game.
Just before he cleaned out his locker for the long offseason, Miller sounded like I’m not writing anything he doesn’t know: “Nobody really sticks around with the same team 10 years, especially when you’re not having success. It’s a tough league. This is my eighth year going into my ninth, and I’m pretty familiar with it.”
Athletes always know the score. And the scoreboard at Mile High isn’t going to change until one looks more like the other: the Broncos spent $85.5 million on defense (fourth-most in the NFL), $51 million on offense (dead last).
“We’ve just got to get up with the times. What we’re doing, we kind of just stayed doing the same thing we’ve been doing since 2015,” Harris said.
“It’s 2019 now. We’ve got to evolve. We can’t do the same thing. I’ve got to evolve my game. I can’t think I’m going to still play the same coverage the way I played in 2015 or 2013. I have to evolve my game and we have to evolve too.”
Know what hurts worse than missing the postseason three years in a row? The moves that usually need to happen afterward.