We are less than 3 weeks away from the start of the league year, and while the league's Draft Scouting Combine should be taking place in Indianapolis right now, we know that it is not.
That doesn't mean teams aren't still talking to agents aka "tampering" but it isn't as overt as it normally would be.
However, one player who doesn't need to be tampered with is Free Agent Defensive End J.J. Watt. The 3-time Defensive Player of The Year is often linked to Broncos Linebacker Von Miller.
The duo was Drafted the same year in 2011(Miller No. 2, Watt No. 11). They both assaulted the record books, almost from the second they hit the field as rookies. Miller is currently 26th on the NFL's all-time list with 106 Sacks in 135 career games. Watt, 31st on the all-time list has 101 sacks in 128 games. Both Players average 0.79 Sacks per game, and the only players in history with a better average than that, are Watt's younger brother T.J. who averages .80 sacks per game for Pittsburgh, Myles Garrett of the Browns at .83 and Hall of Famer Reggie White who averaged .85 sacks per game.
When Watt was released by the Texans a number of teams quickly emerged as showing interest in his services. Some make very obvious sense for different reasons. Both of his brothers play for the Steelers. He's from Wisconsin and has always dreamed of being a Packer. He has a good relationship with Titans Head Coach Mike Vraebel, who was an assistant in Houston for 3 seasons before taking over in Nashville in 2018, including 1 year as the Defensive Coordinator in 2017. Other teams that make sense for Watt's services are the Bills, which might make the most football sense, and the Chiefs who would give him an instant look at a Super Bowl run.
Watt tweeted this last week, just 5 days after he was let go by the Texans
Although Watt seems poised to explore all of his options, the biggest factor to weigh may be the team that offers the most money, against the one that is the best fit that almost certainly would accompany a chance to chase a championship. Presumably there may be a significant gap between the team willing to pay top dollar even with a reduced salary cap, versus a team that has less to offer, but is a title contender.
ESPN's Dianna Russini tweeted this early Thursday morning as it relates to the potential market for Watt:
Watt's market could certainly make things easier, or more difficult for the Broncos if they want to restructure Von Miller's final year of his contract, or perhaps(and more likely) negotiate an extension. Miller is scheduled to make $18.5 Million and count $22.5 Million against the salary cap based on his current contract. Nobody expects him to play for that amount without changes to his contract this year.
If John Elway were still running the team, the expectation is that Miller would get a new deal and likely finish his career in Denver. That future in the Mile High City is a little murkier because new General Manager, George Paton, has no relationship, nor real loyalty to the Super Bowl 50 MVP.
The team has until the start of the new league year, March 17th, to determine their course of action with team's all-time sack leader. One other factor beyond the financial ramifications is Bradley Chubb's future. Conventional thinking his he'll be in line for a new deal likely as early as next off-season, but his potential involvement in a trade for a top-flight quarterback means the Broncos can't just move on from Miller now, in the event they sent Chubb to Houston or Seattle.
The final piece to helping determine Miller's value in 2021 and beyond is not only what Watt signs for, but perhaps where he signs. If any of those teams that were willing to offer the future Hall of Famer $15-16 Million as Russini suggests, and he opts to go somewhere else, it stands to reason, some of those teams might want Miller's services at that number.
But, if Watt signs for $10 Million or less, and with the salary cap going down from last season, Miller may tell the Broncos thanks but no thanks if a contract extension does get offered, but for below what he thinks he could command on the open market.