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Broncos traded the soul of the team when they sent Von Miller to the Rams

George Paton says he still believes in this team, in the players. But who’s going to step up to fill the void of no more No. 58?

I have been stalling.

I don’t want to write this.

Writing it makes it real. And I don’t like that it’s real.

Von Miller is bigger than life. He is certainly bigger than the Broncos. Bigger than the NFL. too.

But as Paul Klee brilliantly put it, the beauty of Miller is also that he was so relatable to every fan: “Von appeals to everyone because he’s a little bit of everyone.”

“He’s an aspiring fly fisherman who hangs with Quavo. He’s pro-police to the tune of a $200,000 donation to local law enforcement while also leading a protest march through Civic Center Park. He’s a golfer in a cowboy hat. He got here as a young man who skipped court dates who’s now leaving as a Dad. He’s flawed. He’s “blind as a bat” and asthmatic, somehow playing that long in our thin air. Von shares more chicken knowledge than any man should, and his long-form dissertation on the difference between “layers and fryers” belongs next to his Pro Football Hall of Fame bust.”

Even George Paton, the first-year GM whose first big move will always be tied to trading Miller, noted this side of Von Miller.

“This past Saturday, my son had a playoff football game,” Paton said. “I show up to the game and Von Miller is at the game. I’m like, ‘Wow, OK.’ He was there to see [Outside Linebackers Coach] John Pagano’s son play Pop Warner football. That’s just the kind of guy he is. We were standing by Von watching the game, and 100 kids came up to him. He signed every autograph and he offered to take selfies with every kid. Adults were coming up to him. This guy’s a special player, a special person. We’re going to miss Von, but he’ll always be a Bronco.”

And that makes the loss of No. 58 that much worse for all involved.

Sure it should be good for Von. He gets to play on team that’s winning and seems keen on applying his pass-rushing prowess over his dropping-into-zone-coverage skills.

Sure it could be good for the Broncos long-term if Paton is able to turn the draft picks into an elite quarterback and also hires the right kind of coaches for the players.

“We’re going to get some great capital from the Rams,” Paton said after noting that they wanted to “do right by Von” in sending him to a team “in the thick of it” and adding that the Broncos are not in a rebuild.

“We’re just trying to do it the right way. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions. We want to build a foundation here. We have a lot of good players here,” he said, adding that a “rebuild” would not be fair to players like Justin Simmons or even Teddy Bridgewater. “Now, do we need to continue to build the foundation to get where we need to go? Certainly. We will continue to do that, and that’s what we’ve done with some of these trades.”

Time will tell if the Broncos get good value for the iconic Von Miller.

What won’t need time to tell is the hole left by not having a No. 58 jersey on the field or in the locker room.

The accolades have been immense.

A generational player in Denver

Drafted by then-new GM John Elway as the second overall pick in 2011, Miller has been named to eight Pro Bowls (2011-12, 14-19) and seven Associated Press All-Pro teams (first team: 2012, 15-16; second team: 2011, ’14, 17-18) during his first 10 years with the team. He was also a unanimous selection to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team.

With 110.5 career sacks, Miller is the club’s all-time leader in quarterback takedowns and 23rd on the NFL’s all-time list.

For most in Broncos Country, Miller’s greatest achievement was almost single-handedly providing Peyton Manning his second Super Bowl ring by breaking Panthers’ QB Cam Newton in Super Bowl 50. Of course, the Super Bowl MVP wouldn’t allow that to be the narrative, but Broncos fans know it was Miller’s strip sacks that sucked the soul out of that Carolina offensive powerhouse.

At the time, Miller still gave credit to his team.

“We carry each other,” Miller said in his MVP presser. “It was truly a team effort. If it wasn’t for Peyton making decisions that he made to throw the ball short so we could punt the ball, get the ball back. It was truly a team effort. Everybody is used to seeing Peyton go out there and throw 45 points a game. This year, it was truly a team effort. We all had a percentage in this Super Bowl win.”

During that 2015 postseason run, Miller posted back-to-back 2.5-sack games against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and the Panthers in the Super Bowl. His two forced fumbles in Super Bowl 50 led to Denver’s only touchdowns in the 24-10 victory.

Miller led all players in the 2010s with 112.5 overall sacks (106 regular season; 6.5 postseason) while ranking second in the NFL during that span with 27 total forced fumbles (25 regular season; 2 postseason). The 112.5 overall sacks rank fifth all-time for a single decade.

Miller was the second player in team history to be voted as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he also owns the most AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in team history (4) and was chosen as the conference player of the month four times, the most recent being this September.

In his 142 games played, Miller has amassed 509 tackles (390 solo), 110.5 sacks (671 yds.), two interceptions (68 yards), 21 passes defensed, 25 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. He produced seven 10-sack seasons (2011-12, ’14-18)—the most for a single player in team history—while appearing in 15 or more games in eight different campaigns (he missed entire 2020 season with a foot injury).

During Miller’s seven postseason games, he totaled 31 tackles, 6.5 sacks (47.5 yards), one interception (4 yards), two passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He helped the Broncos to five AFC West Division titles, two Super Bowl appearances for the 2013 and 2015 seasons and brought the Lombardi back to Denver in that magical, defense-dominated season of 2015.

In the community, Miller is unmatched. Von’s Vision has provided eye care, glasses and contact lenses to underprivileged youth throughout Colorado. His community impact was recognized nationally in 2019 when he received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service in Sports and he was chosen as the Broncos’ 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee and 2019 Community Impact Award winner.

Void in the locker room

Perhaps the biggest loss will be to Miller’s teammates - guys he has defended, supported, mentored, cajoled for the past 11 years.

Without a franchise quarterback, Miller has been the defacto face of the Broncos but also the veteran stability.

And he always had a team-first mentality, never complaining about the state of the Broncos’ win-loss record.

It was clear he didn’t just love playing football. He LOVED playing football with his teammates and for his coaches. His team meant everything to him, whether they were winning or losing. And he took it personally if they were losing.

“This team, they’re going to start winning soon. We’ve got a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches here,” he said in a heartfelt, off-the-cuff goodbye as he was leaving the facility. “I wanted to be a part of it to fix it, but you’ve just got to keep moving.”

A hole in our hearts

If the biggest loss will be to Miller’s teammates, perhaps the biggest heartache will belong to the fanbase. Teammates will remain close to Von for life. He’ll make sure of it. But fans will no longer have the pleasure of watching one of the greatest of all time play in front of them week after week.

It’s true that a lot of players capture the hearts of fans - especially when they help bring victory to the city.

But Von was so much bigger than his victories.

He was crazy. He loved chickens, tattoos, impromptu sack dances. He was the fan favorite at training camp and seemed to relish his role to lead the beginning cheer for the crowd. He was never afraid to reinvent himself, often trying different offseason tactics for getting in shape, eating healthy, cutting weight, putting on weight. He was always interested in being better and never afraid of making a mistake in that pursuit.

He was always good for a positive quote. And while many of his optimistic statements would be cliché from anyone else, you always had the sense that Von actually believed his optimism. It wasn’t just to put good spin out there.

He was known for always saying great things about his quarterback - whether it was Hall of Famer Peyton Manning or seventh-round, almost-an-insurance-salesman Trevor Siemian. He can’t help himself. He loves playing football, and he loves having a team to play with.

But now he has a new team. And he’ll be larger than life there too.

“I’ve been here through the ups and the downs,” Miller said as he left Dove Valley. “It’s always tough whenever you leave, but I love all my fans and I love Broncos country. When I said ‘Broncos for life,’ I meant that. They’ll always be in my heart.

“I’ll always have Super Bowl 50,” Miller added. “Seeing the pictures when I was walking out just made me tear up. I’ll always have Super Bowl 50 and I’ll always have Broncos country.”

I don’t want to write this.

Writing it makes it real. And I don’t like that it’s real.

But it is.