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Guaranteed money is the only real sticking point in Von Miller deal

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos

SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos forces Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers to fumble the ball during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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The Broncos and linebacker Von Miller have agreed to the years (six) and total payout ($114.5 million) on a long-term deal that must be signed, if at all, before July 15. The contract hasn’t been finalized for one reason and one reason only: The two sides can’t agree how much of the money will be guaranteed in full at signing, how much will be guaranteed for injury only at signing, and when any injury-only guarantees will convert to full guarantees.

The Broncos offered Miller $38.5 million fully guaranteed at signing. Under the terms of the offer, a total of $58 million would become fully guaranteed in March 2018, with the extra amounts guaranteed only for injury until then.

Miller wants a much greater overall guarantee (possibly $70 million or more), with the total guarantee fully vesting not in March 2018 but in March 2017. The dollars paid to Miller under the six-year contract don’t change; the debate centers on how much will be fully guaranteed when Miller signs the deal -- and when any additional injury guarantees will become fully guaranteed.

With the Eagles giving Fletcher Cox (who has made it to one Pro Bowl in four seasons) $63 million in guarantees, with more than $55 million becoming fully guaranteed by March of 2017, Miller can plausibly seek a total guarantee of $70 million or more with the vesting of a significant chunk of it by March 2017. If the Broncos, who haven’t engaged Miller’s camp since the Cox deal was done (and vice-versa), still refuse to alter their proposed structure of $38 million fully guaranteed at signing and $58 million fully guaranteed by March 2018, the question becomes why won’t they?

As we see it, there are five potential explanations for Denver’s position:

1. They fear a return of his substance abuse issues.

If this happens, and if Miller ultimately is suspended for it, the Broncos would be able to void any remaining guarantees and to recover potentially significant portions of signing bonus money. Given that Miller has completely exited the substance-abuse program, it’s unlikely that within the next two calendar years Miller would be subject to another suspension -- especially since it now takes more violations to trigger a suspension.

2. They fear an Albert Haynesworth scenario.

Haynesworth signed a massive contract with Washington in 2009, and he then proceeded to underachieve. After five years with Miller, however, the Broncos should be able to tell whether or not he can be trusted with a major payday. The fact that they’re already willing to give him $38 million fully guaranteed at signing suggests that they’re not concerned about Miller suddenly becoming lazy or content.

3. They don’t want to fund the guaranteed money.

The outdated rule requiring fully guaranteed payments to be placed in escrow has made plenty of teams unwilling to fully guarantee significant amounts at signing, resulting in few players receiving full guarantees beyond the first two seasons. In this case, Miller isn’t looking for $70 million or more to be fully guaranteed at signing. He wants the guarantee to fully vest in March 2017, which is the point at which the Broncos would be required to fund anything beyond the amounts fully guaranteed if/when he signs. So this isn’t the same as, for example, the Dolphins be required to fork over $60 million when signing Ndamukong Suh last year. The Broncos would, for example, pay $45 million now (some to Miller and the rest to escrow for 2017) and, for example, another $25 million to escrow in March 2017, based on a $70 million total guarantee.

4. They are concerned he’ll have an injury that impairs his performance.

Injury guarantees apply only if the player can’t pass a physical. Miller could, in theory, suffer an injury in 2016 or 2017 that doesn’t keep him from playing but that keeps him from playing at a dominant level. That would allow the Broncos to cut Miller (or squeeze him to take less money), if the date on which the money becomes fully guaranteed is delayed into year three of the deal.

5. They want to keep their options open.

In theory, the Broncos could decide at some point in the next two years that they have found a younger, cheaper player who can do the same thing Miller does. It’s a dynamic that happens constantly in the NFL, with veterans thrown overboard in favor of lower-priced talent having comparable skills. It’s hard to imagine that happening before 2018 or 2019 with Miller, whose dominance blossomed in the playoffs last season -- and who is still on the front end of his prime.

Again, the issue isn’t total dollars. The issue is whether and to what extent the Broncos will give Miller an assurance that chunks of the total dollars will be paid. For now, they’re willing to commit for two years. Miller wants two years now and a third-year commitment in nine months -- along with a greater overall guarantee than Cox received.

It’s for the parties to decide the specific structure. But with a consensus as to years and total dollars and a willingness by the Broncos to fully guarantee roughly one third of the entire contract when Miller signs it, common sense suggests that if the two sides would commit to a true back-and-forth negotiation, they’d be able to quickly reach a resolution regarding how and when to pay out roughly two thirds of the $114.5 million over six years that the Broncos are willing to pay and Miller is willing to accept.