ENGLEWOOD, Colo.—The trade began to hit Von Miller as he toddled past the photo gallery of great moments that decorate the Denver Broncos headquarters.
The featured shot is the one of him knocking the ball and, in effect, the Lombardi Trophy, from Cam Newton’s grasp five years and nine months ago.
“Always have Super Bowl 50,” a choked-up Miller said on a gray Monday morning as snowflakes danced into the black Cadillac Escalade’s open back window and melted on his tie-dye hoodie.
“Seeing the pictures as I was walking out made me tear up.”
Miller is no longer the face of the franchise in Denver.
The loquacious linebacker is headed West to join Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey with the Los Angeles Rams in a trade that surprised him.
“It’s all kind of new,” said Miller, who insisted he didn’t ask out. “I’m on my way to L.A.”
Where a Super Bowl contender awaits.
“Great team. Been a huge fan of Aaron Donald for a long time,” Miller said. “They’ve got a great defense. Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, all these guys. I’m excited.”
The Rams are sending the Broncos second- and third-round picks in the 2022 draft for the perennial Pro Bowler. The Broncos also are picking up $9 million of the $9.722 million left on his contract.
Miller’s trophy case includes his Super Bowl 50 MVP award for leading Denver to a 24-10 win over heavily favored Carolina following the 2015 season and 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honor.
“Von was the very first draft pick we made back in 2011 at a time when we needed an impact player to turn this team around,” said John Elway, the Broncos president of football operations. “Von dedicated himself to become an elite, record-setting pass rusher, and future Hall of Famer while helping us to one of the winningest periods in team history.
“Von was always at his best when we needed him the most,” Elway added. “Our Super Bowl 50 win and playoff run that year would not have been possible without Von turning in one of the most dominant individual performances of all time.”
Broncos president Joe Ellis called Miller a “franchise icon” and general manager George Paton said, “I’ll always be a fan of his and I look forward to watching his continued impact on our league.”
Miller is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time All-Pro, and a member of the league’s 2010s All-Decade team. And he’s the Broncos’ franchise leader with 110½ sacks in the regular season and has another 6½ in the playoffs.
“It’s hard to put the emotions into words,” Miller said. “It’s always tough whenever you leave. I love all my fans. I love Broncos country. When I said Broncos for life, I meant that. It was an honor and a privilege to play here.
“John Elway picked me. It’s life changing. Ever since then, been able to play with Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, Tim Tebow. It’s still kind of hard to put into words.”
The Rams summed it up quite succinctly.
“ We’re all in,” the Rams (7–1) tweeted along with a meme of actor John Malkovich splashing the pot at the poker table.
And it looks as though the Broncos (4–4) are folding their hand.
With Miller watching from the sideline because of a sprained ankle he said should be fine by next weekend, the Broncos edged Washington 17–10 Sunday, narrowly avoiding their first winless October since 1967.
But it took two defensive stops in the final minute because the Broncos bungled their last possession following safety Justin Simmons’ seemingly game-sealing end zone interception with 49 seconds left.
In between Teddy Bridgewater inexplicably throwing an incompletion to stop the clock with 32 seconds left and saving Washington a timeout, the Broncos fumbled twice, losing the second one at their 24 with 21 seconds remaining.
That served as a fitting farewell to Miller, who never got back to the playoffs with Denver after leading their Super Bowl parade.
Plagued by instability at quarterback, unimaginative offensive play-calling, draft busts, and free-agent flops, the once-proud franchise is mired in one of its longest runs of mediocrity since the 1960s.
“This team, they’re going to start winning soon,” Miller said. “I wanted to be a part of it to fix it.”
Miller joins a Rams team that’s tied with the Packers and Cardinals for the NFL’s best record at 7–1.
Rams coach Sean McVay said Miller will take his physical Tuesday, and he’s optimistic he will play Sunday night against Tennessee.
“You look at what it takes to be successful defensively and it’s about affecting and influencing the quarterback, and this guy does it as well as anybody over the course of his career,” McVay said.
Miller, who’s in the final year of his contract, was sidelined all of last year with a dislocated ankle tendon. He had a splashy comeback, winning the AFC Defensive Player of the Month honor in September.
Despite a quiet October, Miller was still considered a gem for contenders as Tuesday’s trade deadline approached.
Miller’s departure means kicker Brandon McManus is the only remaining member of the 2015 team that won the franchise’s third Super Bowl thanks to Miller’s memorable performance that cemented his legacy as one of his generation’s top pass rushers.
Miller was rewarded with a record six-year, $114.1 million contract that pays him $17.5 million this season.
Had the Broncos held on to Miller and let him leave in free agency after the season, the best they could have netted was a fifth-round compensatory pick in 2022.
In LA, Miller joins fellow stars Donald and Ramsey, the type of talent he hasn’t had around him since the Broncos were regular Super Bowl threats during Manning’s four seasons in Denver from 2012-15.
Moreover, former Broncos and Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Miller is a better fit in L.A.’s version of the 3-4 defensive scheme and should shine in sunny California.
By Arnie Stapleton