DENVER — The reality of the calendar clobbered Von Miller over the head Wednesday.
"Right now I don't think Von is going to be able to start practicing and play this season," Broncos coach Vic Fangio admitted.
Miller dislocated his left ankle tendon in the week of practice before the season opener. He underwent successful surgery on Sept. 11 and expressed a desire multiple times on social media to return this year. In the end, time was not Miller's friend. He has not been cleared to practice with two games remaining in the season, at the Chargers on Sunday and the season finale against Oakland on Jan. 3.
It serves as a crowbar to the shins for Miller, the latest reminder of a lost year. Miller was poised for a big season after adding 10 pounds of muscle during the summer and adopting a new mindset. Moved by the death of Kobe Bryant and motivated by watching the "Last Dance" featuring the white-hot intensity of Michael Jordan, Miller promised to lead differently. He would adopt a "Mamba Mentality," holding teammates accountable to a higher standard.
It played out during training camp and vanished in a blink during the last play of q a practice in September when his tendon snapped. Not seeing Miller and Chubb together marked one of the season's biggest disappointments.
"Losing Von was a huge blow for our team," strong safety Kareem Jackson said. "You lose guys of that quality, it's tough to replace them."
Chubb earned Pro Bowl honors, getting emotional on Monday given his long road back from ACL surgery. Miller is an eight-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and the Super Bowl 50 most valuable player, a performance that will forever provide a compelling argument that he is the greatest defender in franchise history.
The lingering question is sobering: Have we seen the last of Miller in a Broncos uniform? In talking to NFL sources, the Broncos have not given up on Miller returning, not just because of his status in the organization, but a belief he can still be productive at age 32, which he turns in March.
The question becomes at what price. Miller is due $18 million in 2021. It's hard to see the Broncos paying the full amount given Miller's age and potential decline in production as a premier player. A few weeks after his injury during a radio interview on 104.3 The Fan, Miller, raw with emotion, was hurt by the suggestion that he should take a paycut. Given his proximity to surgery, it was understandable. That was 10 weeks ago. Will the passage of time create a different perspective?
Miller knows the team has a history of asking for paycuts. And frankly once Peyton Manning took one -- money he earned back by winning Super Bowl 50 -- nobody was off limits. Could the Broncos' shave Miller to the $12 million range with incentives to claw back his previous salary? I don't rule it out. Given what Miller has meant to the Broncos -- he should be a first ballot Hall of Famer and is already a lock for the Ring of Fame -- it's not hard to see things getting worked out.
The other possibility is that the sides cannot come to an agreement and the Broncos look to trade or release Miller. Any deal would be complicated by Miller's age and salary. A market could develop but might be limited.
The argument to run it back to see Miller and Chubb one more time is enticing. The pair played one season together in 2018, and combined for 26.5 sacks.
Miller's future will hang over the offseason. The Broncos' 2021 club option must be exercised by the first day of the league year on March 17, guaranteeing Miller $7 million.
Lock believes he's still "The Guy"
Drew Lock remains the focus of much of the analysis and criticism of the Broncos' season. Denver began with playoff expectations, and must win its final two games to equal last year's 7-9 record. Lock's play is central to the disappointment. While he has improved over the last month, the overall numbers are not kind: 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 57.7 completion percentage, which ranks 35th, ahead of only Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, who was benched two weeks ago.
"I’m looking forward to going out this week and making another claim that I should be the guy here and try to win these last two, and show what I can do and the decision is the decision," Lock said. "I do believe I’m the guy here, and with progress over time, with another year in this same offense, the sky’s the limit for us."
Ball security has been paramount for Lock. He has not throw an interception in his past two games after logging a streak of seven straight. However, he has turned the ball over in every game, but the opener, losing fumbles in the past two games against Carolina and Buffalo.
"In my mind it’s all I want to do. I want to win the last two games," Lock said.
Lock could have clearly benefited from a normal offseason of OTAs and preseason, especially with a new offensive coordinator. General manager John Elway predicted the offense would struggle early and offered this evaluation of the former Missouri star.
"He's gone through his reads better and dumped some things off and continued to use the experience to get better," Elway said during an interview with the team's website.
"Obviously, the inconsistency, that comes with being young, especially if you're young and you've got young guys around you like we do. It seems like when they all don't play well, they do it together. Again, we've just got to work on the consistency. And I think that Drew's had an up-and-down year, but we still like what we see in him and still think that he's got a chance to be a very good quarterback in this league. "I think he's showed that there's some bright spots there, and he's done a heck of a job in a lot of situations. But to be able to be good and be great in this league, you've got to play with consistency and eliminate the mistakes. That's what we're looking for out of Drew, is hopefully eliminate some of those mistakes and keep showing us the things that he can do."
Left tackle Garett Bolles admitted it was a “huge bummer” for him to miss the first start of his career when he had food poisoning before the Carolina game. It also stunk that he did not make the Pro Bowl. "But I didn't begin the year chasing individual honors," Bolles said. ...
Former Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on facing his former team for the first time. He still talks to guys on the team, including Von Miller and Garett Bolles. “It was a brotherhood over there until I went to the dark side. I might have a little more motivation this week." ...
Fangio said Bradley Chubb (ankle), Royce Freeman (hip) and Phillip Lindsay were not scheduled to practice today.