Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: Broncos should part ways with Von; Nuggets finally get a new G-League team, and local baseball fields should all be artificial turf

@ MarkKnudson41

Strike One: There’s no denying how great a Miller player was for the Denver Broncos. Super Bowl MVP, the sack franchise leader. ‘Nuff said.

Broncos’ new general manager, George Paton, has a decision to make. Is he taking the $ 18 million option for the soon-to-be 32-year-old Pass Rush specialist who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, or does what many believe is unthinkable and leaves Von Miller leave town?

He has to let Von go the first of many difficult decisions for the new GM.

This isn’t exactly a Colorado Rockies-Nolan Arenado scenario. There doesn’t seem to be any ill will between Von and the Broncos, and Von enters the final year of his contract, he’s not in the middle of it. But there is similarity. The Rockies couldn’t afford to keep Nolan and pay him millions for the next season (or for several seasons after that) after losing so much sales during the pandemic … while staring at the barrel of a rebuilding project. The Broncos cannot afford to keep Miller, their highest paid player, while they are also rebuilding.

There are many lessons in the NFL, and one that Paton and the rest of Broncos Country should study seriously is philosophy in New England, where Bill Belichick was always willing to part with a player a year early instead of a year too late . (We’re not talking about Tom Brady, who passed by himself after two decades and multiple Super Bowls. If you’re an honest observer, you know the Patriots wouldn’t win the Super Bowl last season with or without Brady Timeless QB simply found a loaded roster in Tampa ready to take the next step, and they took advantage of it.) The fact is, Belichick was right almost every time he let go of a prolific player who was just entering the downside of his career. People like Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel, and Ty Law could all still play and contribute, but the Pats proved that it was best for their franchise to let them go a year early, rather than for their later years to hold on.

Now the Broncos have to do the same with Von.

Neither of us would be shocked if Miller made a strong comeback after the injury that cost him the entire 2020 season and started making all-pro numbers again. But in the era of the wage cap, a non-contender like Denver can’t afford to take the risk that he won’t. Keeping him would cost the Broncos over $ 22 million against the cap next season. If you let him go, it will save you $ 18 million.

The NFL played a full season during the pandemic, but of course revenue has been falling, and that means the salary cap is also falling. It will drop roughly $ 10 million per team to $ 188 million next fall, and Denver has yet to decide whether to keep (and pay) its excellent security duo, Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons. Simmons is the best player in the Broncos and he has to be paid that way. Putting the franchise tag on Simmons, who is only 27 years old, for the second year in a row would keep him close, but would also likely signal that 2021 would be his final year in predominantly orange. Simmons would be a much greater loss than Von at this point.

Perhaps the Broncos and Miller, a future Hall of Famer, can come up with an acceptable compromise – a pay cut for the next season with a slight contract extension – maybe up to $ 10-12 million / year – and maybe play from another year or so two in Denver. But that is by no means a given. Paton can and should give Miller that option. He owed that kind of consideration. But don’t expect him to accept it.

It’s time for Broncos Country to prepare for life after Von Miller.

Strike Two: Despite all their recent successes, the Denver Nuggets have long been absent from the player development department, largely because they never had a partner of their own in a small league. Some young nuggets got the chance to play in the “G” (Developmental) League because Denver got a deal with someone else’s minor league franchise to put them there. But all of the other benefits of having your own team for developing young players are missing from the Nuggets player development equation. That seems to be changing for the next season. And just in time.

If the Nuggets actually took over the operation of the G-League’s Grand Rapids (Michigan) Drive – and they would very likely move the team closer to their home – they could send players like Bol Bol to the minors to get them physically and mentally willing to contribute before they became full time nuggets. More importantly, they can draw and develop young players who are not quite NBA-ready yet but have a huge edge and future in the league.

With the NBA, this is now becoming a bigger business allowing high school players to enter the G-League straight away without spending a year in college. So far, only a few players have used the new policy. However, expect more of these in the years to come. Kids like Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, and Daishen Nix skipped offers from large college programs and took well-paying contracts from the G League before the pandemic. Yes, prospective high school prospects could make money on “Name, Image, and Likeness” at Duke or Kentucky, but that’s chicken feed versus the six-figure annual salaries they’ll play professionally … and they don’t have to put their way through chemistry class.

When the Nuggets draw and sign such a young player, they can develop him at their own pace, as they see fit. And they’ll likely be able to do this very close to home.

The Colorado Avalanche has already made the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland the home of their top minor league member. The Nuggets could move the Drive there (and the name “Drive” would go down very well with Denver fans) and be an hour away … or they could just house the team at Kroenke’s First Bank Center in Broomfield, about a 20-minute drive from the ball arena. The First Bank Center was previously the home of the Colorado 14ers of the NBA (then) D-League from 2006 to 2009 before the franchise moved to Frisco, Texas and became the Texas Legends. So the building is ready.

In any case, having top prospects available to watch closely and call in case of an emergency was never a bad idea. And now the Nuggets can actually have a minor league team full of prospects.

Strike three: Local college baseball is back.

Last March, the college baseball season came to an abrupt halt after around a dozen games due to the first major coronavirus outbreak. The Northern Colorado Bears were in Lincoln, Nebraska after finishing a series against the Huskers. During a lunch break before heading to Omaha to play Creighton, head coach Carl Iwaski called to turn the vans around and return to Greeley. Season over.

For the bears and every other college baseball program, the pandemic has sparked the longest off-season ever. Everyone involved set out to get back on the field.

However, in February in Colorado, the return to the field remains largely in the not-so-kind hands of Mother Nature. And if they had been forced to play at Jackson Field in Greeley last opening weekend, UNC would have had to wait even longer to play another game. We’ve had a lot of snow in the area lately, but despite all the ugly white stuff, the bears still had to play ball.

UNC was due to open at the Wichita State national power plant this season. This series was canceled due to virus concerns. Instead, Iwaski and his team had the opportunity to travel south for an hour to play the Colorado Christian University Cougars at All-Star Park in Lakewood. Neither snow nor mud nor parts of an airplane falling from the sky could stop the two teams from playing a three-game set over the weekend. That’s because the CCU signed a contract to renovate the All-Star Park prior to last season and replaced the natural grass / dirt surface with artificial turf.

The teams played 20 innings on Saturday and shared a double header. Then another snow wave came overnight. Even so, they could push the ugly white stuff off the field and play another game on Sunday. The bears prevailed on a high-scoring matter to win the series. The most important thing is that both teams play well and have had a good start to the new season … because the artificial turf allowed it.

It will likely be a very long time before another pandemic hits the world and brings everything, including sport, to a standstill. But the winter weather in February, March, and even April will happen in Colorado every year. For this reason, local officials on the college AND high school front should all follow the lead of schools like the CCU, Metro State, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Denver Christian High School, and several others and worn, high-maintenance grass – / dirt baseball players replace fields with artificial turf play areas.

(Yes, I know this is a selfish attitude that comes from a local high school coach. But bear with me …)

Local high schools have pulled up the dead grass and installed artificial turf soccer fields across the region. While there is a high upfront cost (the CCU spent nearly a million dollars replacing the playing surface at the All-Star Park), over time, the high cost of watering and maintaining lawns adds up to far more than one new lawn field costs for installation. So in the long run it makes dollars and makes sense. Football fields are of course versatile, on which football and lacrosse are also played, and the up-front costs are much cheaper if more than one program can use the field.

But the idea that baseball fields aren’t reused is just wrong. The new baseball fields can also be used for softball, and in some cases soccer / lacrosse, if properly laid out. For multiple sports at multiple schools, it can be beneficial to turn the fields into artificial turf.

The grass may be greener on the other side of the Arizona border, but if we want the local kids (and coaches) to play ball here at this time of year, we have to make these fields playable even when Mother Nature is in a bad mood.

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