For what seems like an eternity, the Buffalo Bills have sought an elite pass rusher. The team hasn’t really had one of those since Mario Williams was playing in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense. In fact, the last time a Buffalo player had double-digit sacks was in 2016, when linebacker Lorenzo Alexander shocked everyone in notching 12.5 sacks on the year.
Since head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier arrived, the most sacks a player has had in a season was Jordan Phillips, who hit 9.5 in 2019. We don’t round up here, so no, that doesn’t quite count as double digits. However, the Bills pursued a future Hall of Fame pass rusher this offseason who very well could become the next person to make it to at least ten sacks—and if he doesn’t, chances are good that he’ll open up one-on-one opportunities for someone else to do it instead.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile a player the team lists as a linebacker who will probably spend time as a defensive end this year.
Name: Von Miller
Height/Weight: 6’3” 250 lbs
Age: 33 (34 on 3/26/2023)
Experience/Draft: 12; selected in the first round (No. 2 overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos
College: Texas A&M
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 3/16/2022
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Miller signed the largest contract for a defensive player in team history, inking a six-year pact that could be worth a total of $120 million. For the 2022 season, Miller’s cap hit is just $5.15 million. That number balloons to $18.705 million in 2023. Of the $51,435,000 guaranteed on the contract, $45 million is due in the form of a signing bonus, so that number represents the dead-cap hit if the Bills and Miller somehow decide to part ways this year.
2021 Recap: Miller began the season with Denver, and he had 4.5 sacks in seven games. He had missed the entire 2020 season due to a dislocated peroneal tendon in his ankle, an injury he suffered during practice. At the trade deadline last year, the Broncos sent him out west, trading him to the Los Angeles Rams. Miller had five sacks in eight regular-season games with the Rams, playing on an average of 54 defensive snaps per game (for reference, Jerry Hughes led Buffalo’s defensive ends in snaps by playing in approximately 32 snaps per game). While Miller was obviously solid in the regular season, he was a game changer in the playoffs, notching four sacks, six quarterback hits, six tackles for a loss, a pass knockdown, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in four playoff games. Miller totaled 50 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, one pass knockdown, and one forced fumble in the regular season.
Positional outlook: Miller is listed as a linebacker on the official roster, which is the position where Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds figure to see the most snaps. However, on the team’s first depth chart, he’s listed as the right defensive end, starting across from second-year man Greg Rousseau. Boogie Basham, A.J. Epenesa, Mike Love, Shaq Lawson, Kingsley Jonathan, and Daniel Joseph are the other defensive ends.
2022 Offseason: Miller is healthy and he is loving Buffalo, even if he talks a little bit about how much he loved other places, too. That last part isn’t meant to be whiny, for the record. The man is allowed to talk nicely about other places while he’s in camp working hard.
2022 Season outlook: Miller is the missing piece to this defense. Without a true game-changer along the defensive line, teams could neutralize the best parts of the Bills’ pass rush—Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison—quite easily. Oliver and Rousseau are emerging forces along the line who can only be helped by the presence of a legit stud in Miller, who is the best pure pass rusher this team has had since Mario Williams arrived on his own $100 million contract. The difference is that Williams came, at the end of the day, for money alone—whereas Miller came to chase a ring (and because the Bills offered him an exorbitant amount of cash).
With a defense that was already elite, adding another elite piece can only make it better. We’ll see just how much better they are in about a month, but Miller is already making a tremendous impact by teaching the younger ends what he knows about bend and leverage off the edge. Miller is a superb all-around defender who is known to be a phenomenal teammate. He’s the perfect add for what this team needed. We’ll see if he puts them over the top.