Von Miller is not as easily recognized as Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton or former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
But among those three and the other 150-plus NFL rookies who descended upon IMG Academies this past week, he is the only one who earned his battle stripes.
When the labor dispute between players and owners is settled, the first-year players can thank Miller for risking his professional football life for them.
The Texas A&M linebacker put his career on the line when he became the only incoming rookie to attach his name to the anti-trust lawsuit the NFL Players Association filed against the league before the draft.
There was talk it would affect his draft status and he would be labeled a troublemaker or locker-room lawyer, which most owners see as worse than a plague.
But all that didn’t frighten him. The 22-year-old has a good sense of football history and is committed to past, current and future players.
He sees it as an honor to be listed on the suit with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, though they are set for life financially while he is so broke he had to move back in with his parents.
“I did it for them (rookies) and all the guys who have come before me and broken their backs. It was never about me, and I’ve never walked around with it like that,” Miller said. “This is my team right here. No other rookie class has been through a situation like this, and I will help any way I can.”
Miller was selected second overall by the Denver Broncos behind Newton, which is a tribute to DeMaurice Smith. The players union head wanted to pick a rookie who could pass any character test and had the skills to overcome preconceived negative notions.
The 6-foot-3, 246-pounder has the on-field credentials. He won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker last year and is a two-time All-American.
Miller says you can never fear losing something you never had, so his draft status and upcoming contract are not something he worries about.
With the rookie cap a given, here is a guy who stands to lose a potential $13 million per year, is still sleeping in the same bedroom he had in high school and doesn’t feel cheated.
“I love the game,” he says.
Nearly all the rookies in town last week seemed to have a remote-controlled answer about the proposed rookie cap, saying they just want to play football and are not concerned. But Miller thinks deeper than most and said he believes he will get his money. It just might take a little longer.
Last year’s No. 2 pick, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, signed with the Detroit Lions for a reported five-year, $68 million contract with $40 million guaranteed. He was selected as a Pro Bowl starter and led all defensive tackles with 10 sacks.
The No. 1 pick, quarterback Sam Bradford, signed a six-year, $78 million deal with $50 million guaranteed, getting the largest contract ever for an NFL rookie. The No. 3 pick, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, agreed to a five-year, $63 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Regardless of how the labor talks end, there is a consensus on both sides that rookies will never see that kind of money again.
“I am living with my parents, and they love me being there so everything is fine,” Miller said. “To me, it’s never been about the money. I’ve played all my life for free, and if you take something here (in labor negotiations) you’ve got to give something there. The great players will get their money in the long run.
“My father even stopped paying me to mow our lawn a long time ago.”
Miller doesn’t look at Suh’s contract and wonder if he was born a year too late or should’ve come out for the 2010 draft.
“I look at the season he had last year, and it’s going to be hard to top that. But as long as I take it one day at a time it will be all right,” Miller said. “The only thing we can control is our conditioning and the way we work and get into the playbook and wait for the word. That part really isn’t frustrating. The lockout has shown me what football really means to me. I haven’t put a helmet or shoulder pads on since the Cotton Bowl in January. I am really missing the game.”
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.