Zach Miller’s football future is in jeopardy after suffering a potentially career-ending injury last fall, but the Chicago Bears are taking care of him. The franchise signed its veteran tight end to a one-year contract that was guaranteed to pay him even if he couldn’t return to the field. Last season, Miller nearly had to have his left leg amputated after suffering catastrophic damage against the Saints.
The next day, the Bears put him on their injured reserve/physically unable to perform list, which means he won’t play in 2018:
We have officially placed TE Zach Miller on Reserve/PUP.— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) June 5, 2018
.@ZMiller86 calls re-signing with the team "pretty cool": "It’s tough for me to put it into words, what it means to me, but I’m just very thankful and grateful to be a part of this family."— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) June 5, 2018
The contract will still pay Miller $458,000 guaranteed. That figure would have risen to $790,000 if he could take the field. It’s a small payout for a team with an estimated $27 million in salary cap space left to spend this offseason, but still an important gesture that keeps a veteran free agent in the fold and able to receive team medical care in the near future.
Why is this low-impact signing a big deal?
The Bears could have walked away from Miller without paying him another dime. Instead, they kept a longtime teammate on the roster knowing he may never play another down of organized football in his life. It’s a surprisingly fair move in a league that often treats its players as disposable commodities rather than actual people.
Miller suffered through one of the most brutal plays of 2017. The tight end hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass in Week 8 against the Saints only to come down awkwardly on his left leg. The landing dislocated his kneecap, damaged his arteries, and nearly led to amputation. Then, to add insult to literal injury, the NFL’s wacky catch rule reserved his touchdown ruling.
The injury kept Miller in the hospital for three weeks before he was cleared to rest at home. He wound up having at least eight surgeries on the knee, though he was able to walk on it without crutches by last December.
While that’s a similar injury to the one Teddy Bridgewater eventually returned from, Miller will have to complete his rehab at age 33 rather than 23. The odds he makes it back to his pre-injury form are low, but he could still add value as a big red zone target even if his explosiveness is limited.
Losing Miller was a major blow to a Chicago offense in desperate need of playmakers around then-rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky last fall. The veteran tight end was coming off the most productive season of his career despite having played just 10 games in 2016 and was tagged as Trubisky’s sure-handed checkdown target last fall. He struggled alongside early-season starter Mike Glennon but had developed a rapport with Trubisky, catching touchdowns in two of his final four games — three if you count the awfully-overturned reception that nearly cost him his leg.
The Bears have beefed up their tight end corps in his absence, most notably signing former Eagle Trey Burton to a four-year, $32 million pact. Adam Shaheen, a 2017 second-round pick, will also get plenty of chances to prove himself as more than just a ball of potential.
Chicago was well-staffed at tight end and didn’t need to sign a player who may never take the field. Instead, they kept Miller in the fold, rewarding four years of hard work and giving him a fair shake in his journey toward an NFL comeback. There aren’t too many six-figure signings to get excited about in the league, but Miller’s reunion with the Bears is one of them.