Zach Miller has been a somewhat polarizing figure since joining the Bears prior to the 2014 season. It seems like he has been here a lot longer than he actually has. But there is a very simple explanation for that. It happens to be a particular buzz word in a particular sport and that word starts with an “i”, ends with an “s” and in the middle is “njurie”.
When Miller first signed with the Bears, he had already missed 12 games in 2011 and all of 2012 and 2013 with injuries. For all intents and purposes, he hadn’t played in 3 full seasons. As many of us recall, he had a tremendous preseason in 2014 but alas, ended up missing the season with a foot injury.
Miller’s true breakout was in 2015. In week 9 against the, then St. Louis Rams, he burst onto the scene with 5 catches for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. Including an 87-yard beauty. He didn’t do much again until Martellus Bennett was put on injured reserve and finished up the season with a respectable 439 yards and 5 touchdowns.
In 2016 as the primary tight end, Miller was not quite as effective. Although some of that could be the fact that the quarterback position had so much turnover. In week 10 however, the injury bug bit Miller’s foot yet again. The tight end landed on injured reserve for the remaining six games.
Ability has never been the issue, availability has. As Miller himself said on Thursday, “I don't think ability-wise that there's any question I can play and Coach Fox always says ability is availability.” Therein lies the rub with Miller, as it has since he became a pro, can he stay on the field? As a soon-to-be 33-year old, the odds do not appear to be in his favor.
Experience: 9th-year pro
Weight: 243 pounds
Contract and salary cap:
According to Spotrac, Miller signed a 2-year, $5,500,000 contract, including $3,000,000 guaranteed in 2016. In 2017, Miller will earn a base salary of $1,500,000, a signing bonus of $500,000 and a roster bonus of $312,500, while carrying a cap hit of $1,812,500. The dead money however, is only $500,000, should be be cut.
Reason for improvement in 2017
If he can stay healthy, Miller is a productive player. He works hard, has excellent hands and athleticism, and has turned himself into a more than adequate blocker. Even if he does make the team, I see his role being reduced simply due to Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen being acquired in the off-season. That said, a limited role may benefit Miller in that it reduces his chances for injury. With more weapons at the tight end position, he has an opportunity to be used as a true “match-up” piece and he should be able to show off his tremendous “big play” ability.
Reason for regression in 2017
The flip-side of the injury coin is that he relies heavily on his athleticism and as such, his body needs to be right to be effective. The fact that Miller practiced on day 1 and was not put on the initial PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list is a positive sign. Make no mistake though, he is still coming back from another foot injury and there is always a risk of a setback. As he said in the quote above, ability is availability, and there has never been a player that assertion applies to more than Miller.
Final roster odds
This is tricky for me. On the one hand, I really like Zach Miller as a player. He makes plays, works hard and seems like a likable person. On the other, he has been frustratingly injured, he is turning 33 in October and I think this is a year where you want to see what a player like Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker or MyCole Pruitt has to offer. With Sims and Shaheen as roster locks, Miller might have an uphill battle to make the roster. Assuming that he stays healthy throughout training camp and the preseason, I suspect that Miller makes the team and my gut tells me that Miller has about a 75% chance to make the roster.
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