ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the NFL schedule came out, it looked as though Week 2 would feature two of league’s best defenders, at the glamour position of pass-rusher, on the field on the same day.
And then it didn't.
On Sunday, when the Raiders come to Denver, only Von Miller will be there. While it once looked that former defensive player of the year Khalil Mack would challenge Case Keenum and the Broncos' offensive line, Mack is in Chicago now after a stunning Sept. 1 trade.
“Things change sometimes,” Miller said. “That’s the National Football League maybe. I’m glad to see Khalil get what he deserves.”
Miller opened his eighth season this past Sunday with three sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and seven tackles in Denver’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks
All because two franchises faced the same decision: whether to agree to a historic contract to keep an elite pass-rusher. Or not.
In the weeks and months after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 to close out the 2015 season, largely because Miller had his best career day in his biggest career game -- 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles (one of which was recovered for a touchdown) in the Broncos’ 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers -- Denver placed the franchise-player tag on Miller. But, having just completed his fifth season, he wanted a long-term deal, and he skipped the Broncos’ offseason program.
This year the Raiders had engaged a fifth-year option on Mack, who finished his fourth season in 2017. But he wanted a long-term deal, and skipped the Raiders’ offseason work to show how much.
The Broncos’ impasse with Miller ended in July 2016 with a six-year, $114.5 million deal, that at the time was the biggest contract for any defensive player in the league. Mack’s impasse with the Raiders ended in a trade -- Mack, a second-round draft pick in 2020 and a 2020 conditional fifth-rounder to the Bears in exchange for the Bears' first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a sixth-rounder in 2019 and a third-rounder in 2020.
Mack quickly signed a six-year, $141 million contract extension with the Bears, the biggest contract for any defensive player in the league.
Two different outcomes of the same dilemma.
“You can’t sign everybody; every player wants to negotiate as much as they can and I understand that, I’ve been there," Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway, who has been on both sides of the negotiating table as a marquee player in the league as well as a team’s top football decision-maker, has repeatedly said. "But in this job you make decisions you think are in your best interest both now and two, three, four years down the road, and not every decision is going to be popular.”
And really, if you’re grading ugliness of a holdout, Miller's might have actually reached a higher degree of public angst than Mack’s did with the Raiders.
Despite Miller's almost-constant public assurances in the spring of 2016 that he expected negotiations to be "peaceful" and that he "trusted," things got emotional on both sides. The team was frustrated at the time with the inability to get a deal done before the end of the offseason program in mid-June -- Miller skipped all of the team's conditioning and on-field work -- while Miller told many close to him he was blindsided when some of the specifics of the contract offer were made public in June.
Miller did make the post-Super Bowl trip to the White House with his teammates and also attended the ceremony at which the players received their Super Bowl rings. But he made no secret of his anger, even cropping Elway out of a picture taken at the White House and posting it on social media.
Miller had also posted on social media during that time there was "no chance" he would play the 2016 season under the franchise tag. But the two sides kept talking, the Broncos pumped up the guaranteed money in their offer and the deal got done.
Jon Gruden, in the first season of his second stint as Raiders head coach, has publicly said Mack’s price was “too steep” and it forced Oakland's hand.
“It's part of the business,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “It's one of those sucky things that happen.”
For their part, the Broncos haven’t been to the postseason since their Super Bowl win, going 9-7 in 2016 before last season’s 5-11. Miller has maintained his status as one of the game’s elite players, and the Broncos believe he’s poised for one of his best seasons with the improvements they’ve tried to make around him, including rookie Bradley Chubb, who is the team’s first top-five pick in a draft since Miller in ’11.
The Raiders’ story -- with Gruden’s return on a 10-year deal in just its first season -- is still to be told.
But Miller, for one, believes it’s all in the business of business.
“It changes a little bit with him going to Chicago,” Miller said. “But that’s what you want to see though. I love to see Khalil go and get what he deserves. He’s been a great defensive player. Been one of the best, if not the best defensive player out for a little bit now. It’s great to see him get his due, I’m happy for him. ... Me? I’m a Denver Bronco and I’ve said I don’t want Super Bowl 50 to be the only one for me. I want more.”