PITTSFORD, N.Y.—The last nine months of Von Miller’s life:
Oct. 21: In his last game as a Denver Bronco, Miller played 33 snaps in a 17-14 loss to Cleveland.
Nov. 1: Denver traded Miller, who was stunned by it, to the Rams for second- and third-round picks in the 2022 draft. “You wanna make God laugh, make plans,” a subdued Miller said.
Jan. 2: In his seventh game for the Rams, Miller was the biggest player on the field, recording two big sacks of Tyler Huntley at Baltimore in a 20-19 win. “This is what you play the game for,” Miller said post-game, and I remember (I was there) hearing how exultant Miller and his mates were through the locker-room door. Miller loved the Rams.
Feb. 13: Six years after his Super Bowl MVP performance for Denver, Miller sacked Joe Burrow twice in the Rams’ 23-20 Super Bowl victory.
Early March: Miller, a free-agent, reportedly told friends he’d re-sign with the Rams because it’s where he wanted to finish his career.
March 16: Miller, torn between the Rams and the significantly bigger money offered by the Bills, chooses Buffalo’s six-year deal with $51-million guaranteed and worth up to $120-million. Buffalo GM Brandon Beane was both happy and surprised by the decision, because the Bills kept hearing his heart was in L.A.
July 7: In Dan Pompei’s profile of him for The Athletic, Miller says the day after he agreed with the Bills, he was having so many second thoughts on the flight to Buffalo to sign that he planned to tell them he’d changed his mind. But the Bills had such a good plan for him that, per Pompei, Miller prayed on the Bills’ home field and decided to sign with Buffalo after all.
July 24: Wearing a blue number 40 jersey, Miller jogged out to his first practice with the Bills on the St. John Fisher campus in a leafy Rochester suburb. He signed autographs for 20 minutes afterward for some of the 5,500 fans who crammed camp.
“Free-agency is crazy,” Miller told me after practice. “You gotta make life-changing decisions, career-changing decisions, in two hours.”
We live in a transactional sporting world, with players famous and unfamous changing teams day after day. When something like Miller happens, and he’s emotional about it, the reaction by some is Man up, millionaire. I’ll change cities for $100 million any day. Well, of course. But think of what Miller went through. He loved L.A., he loved his Super Bowl mates (especially Aaron Donald, as a player and person), he loved playing for Sean McVay. The Rams wanted him back, and he was happy with his moderately reduced workload (he played about 75 percent of the snaps in his 12 Rams games). But then the Bills threw the money and the love at him, and here we are.
Miller went to the Rams’ Super Bowl ring ceremony last week in California. “So hard to let go of L.A.,” he said. “So hard to let go of Coach McVay, [GM] Les Snead and especially Aaron Donald, man. Every time I think about it, man, I get sad thinking about not playing with them anymore.”
I say: Good for him for admitting it. Who can blame Miller for being human, for having a few ounces of regret for leaving a team he’d grown to love. He’s not betraying the Bills; he’s simply getting over a heartbreak. In due time, he’ll be fine, and he’ll be a Bills Mafia favorite. Emotions now, pragmatism later. But let’s be real about the opener, Bills at Rams, Sept. 8, with America watching. That’ll be a tough night for Miller.
Speaking of pragmatism, how will the Bills keep the 33-and-a-half Miller healthy and contributing for 17 weeks of the season and maybe four more in the playoffs? He can’t be an every-down player, and probably shouldn’t play even 75 percent of the snaps.
“We got Von to close games for us,” GM Brandon Beane told me.
So this seems logical to me: The Bills are so good that in games they’re leading big at the start of the fourth quarter, coach Sean McDermott should say to Miller: Take a shower. You’re done. That could save 100, 150 snaps. And for the big ones (at Baltimore, at Kansas City, Green Bay, at Cincinnati, maybe a New England or Miami game), he could give Buffalo 65 snaps. The rest of the time, let a strong rotation of youngsters get time to get better.
McDermott told me: “If I said that we don’t have to rely on him to play full games, and he reads that, he’s gonna be like, ‘Oh no. No way.’ Because that’s how competitors are. Right? I fully expect him to be able to do it if we need it.”
“Peter, it’s the first day of training camp!” Miller said when I asked him about not overdoing it this year. “I don’t want to miss that game-changing play being on the sidelines. Of course I’m gonna listen to the coaches and the GM and everyone I trust here. But I wanna play as much as possible.”
Of course. But McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will need to be conservationists, and adults on the sidelines. The Super Bowl favorite doesn’t need the former Super Bowl MVP to be watching in a parka in a big January playoff games.
Three Bills things:
1. Josh Allen’s a rock star, and more. The crowd was batcrap for him for two hours of practice and then a few signing binges post-practice. I got coffee in Pittsford later and I came upon this devotional candle in his image in the coffeeshop.
At practice Sunday, Bills EVP Ron Raccuia told me he was in the Bills group that went to the site of the mass grocery store shooting in Buffalo in May. He saw Allen approach city and county leaders to offer condolences. “He shook hands with the three politicians, including the mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown,” said Raccuia. “He spent time talking and listening to each one. And he leans into [Erie County legislator] April Baskin, and I heard him say, ‘April, have you been okay through all of this?’ He meant it. He is one of the most authentic guys I’ve been around.” Athletes are important to communities. Sean McDermott brought up David Ortiz taking the mic after the Boston Marathon terrorism and saying, “This is our f—ing city!” Allen is not Ortiz—yet—but he’s becoming a very big part of the fabric of western New York.
2. Tre’Davious White (torn ACL eight months ago today) is valuable, and is also on the Physically Unable to Perform List. No one’s predicting if he’ll be ready to face the Rams in 45 days, but the Bills will spend lots of manhours getting first-round pick Kaiir Elam ready just in case.
3. Spent some time watching wideout Gabriel Davis, who scored four touchdowns in the playoff loss to Kansas City, catch balls off the JUGS machine. He’s cut, he’s got soft hands, he’s very ready to be a 1b to 1a Stefon Diggs in this offense. He’s a worker bee too. All you fantasy players: Don’t let Davis slip too far down your receiver rankings. He’ll get his targets. Allen throws to the open guy, and Davis is good at getting open.