UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Another take on Von Miller trade: bold, visionary

Let’s get one thing straight right away. The Broncos sending Von Miller to the Rams IS NOT in any way, shape or form comparable to the Rockies’ trade of Nolan Arenado, as one fan tweeted shortly after the news broke on Monday.

Arenado is in his prime; Miller is not. The high draft choices Denver is getting from the Rams in return for Miller are, on paper, a much better return than what the Rockies received for Arenado (though time will tell on both). And the $9 million the Broncos are sending to Los Angeles—money they were going to pay this year, anyway—is a fraction of what the Rockies agreed to pay the Cardinals

Yes, it’s always upsetting when a franchise icon, in any sport, is shipped to another team. But let’s look more closely—and dispassionately—at this deal.

Von Miller has been a stellar member of the Denver defense for more than a decade. No argument there.

But he’s 32 years old, coming off an injury that cost him all of last season, and not quite the sack machine of earlier years. He’s already more than tripled the average length of a National Football League career (3.3 years), and studies show that linebackers peak in their mid-20s and decline significantly after they pass age 30—if they’re still in the league by then. His stats so far this season suggest he’s begun that slide.

And then there’s the matter of Miller’s pending free agency. He can test the market at the end of this season, and surely would have (and probably will). It’s unlikely that he would have been in orange and blue next season anyway. 

Some NFL wonks are saying Denver General Manager George Paton actually should get an “A” for this deal. Those second- and third-round choices from the Rams, added to what the Broncos already have in next year’s draft, give Denver six picks in the first four rounds. That’s six of the top 100 or so players coming out of college—unless he packages some of them in another trade.

The just-concluded World Series demonstrated how a team can be transformed by shrewd in-season trades. The Atlanta Braves were three games under .500 (51-54), in third place and five games behind the division-leading New York Mets on July 30. They were 50-to-1 shots to make it to the Series. But GM Alex Anthopolous remade his entire outfield with three trade deadline moves, acquiring Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler (to go with Joc Pederson, who came from the Cubs a couple weeks earlier). We saw how that turned out.

But that’s not how it works in pro football.  The NFL is a draft choice league. The really good teams are built by finding diamonds in the draft.

Paton’s first foray into the college draft as Broncos GM last April was pretty successful, even though he passed on all the flavor-of-the-day quarterbacks. Most who follow the Broncos closely share the view that top pick Patrick Surtain II is a future all-pro, and running back Javonte Williams, taken in the second round, has opened some eyes. The two third-rounders, offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz and linebacker Baron Browning, are contributing and could develop into starters.

If Paton can do as well next April, the Broncos may be on their way back.

The outcry over trading Von Miller is interesting. Just a week or so ago, the talk was that the Broncos needed a visionary who would make bold moves to transform a moribund franchise. But when a bold , visionary move is made, the first reaction is to object. At least we know who’s calling the shots at the Dove Valley complex.

If the Broncos were serious contenders for a deep run in the playoffs, Von Miller certainly would be a valuable piece to the puzzle. But anyone who watched Sunday’s 17-10 victory over Washington should be able to see that this team will be fortunate to finish with a winning record. If it squeaks into the playoffs, which seems a longshot, any victory that extends the post-season will be a major upset.

Methinks this is not George Paton’s last bold move. The ice beneath Vic Fangio is getting thinner each Sunday. It might have cracked if the debacle at the end of the Washington game—when the Broncos failed to run out the final 1:26 and gave the erstwhile Redskins another chance by fumbling (with two timeouts left, no less!)—had resulted in blowing what seemed a certain victory. Who calls two handoffs and a pass in that situation? 

The trip to Dallas coming up doesn’t look like your prototypical weekend getaway. Then there’s a home against the Philadelphia Eagles, followed by the Bye week. That open date seems like the perfect opportunity to make a change on the sideline, especially if the Eagles come to Denver and steal one.

For those who aren’t yet ready to stop watching Von Miller, there’s some good news. His new team plays Tennessee on Sunday night this week and the 49ers the next week on Monday night—both nationally televised. 

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at info@comservbooks.com.