The Bears wanted tight end Zach Miller, and Miller wanted the Bears. A deal was just a matter of time — the expected result after the free-agent market helped determine the value of Miller’s new contract.
It finally came together on Monday, a day after Miller met with Rams. Miller and the Bears agreed on a two-year deal worth $6 million and including up to $2 million more incentives.
Retaining Miller always was a top priority in free agency. Not only is Martellus Bennett’s future in flux after his issues last season, but the Bears literally like everything that Miller brings to their team, on and off the field.
Miller has earned quarterback Jay Cutler’s confidence as a pass catcher. He’s improved enough as a blocker to handle fullback. And, perhaps most important, Miller has the type of “football character” that coach John Fox so often mentions and desires, persevering through numerous injuries that threatened to end his career to reach this point.
“I’m probably as proud of his accomplishments as anybody on the football team,” Fox said in December.
Miller’s accomplishments included new career highs in 2015: 34 receptions, 439 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Miller also started 14 of 15 games last season. It was by far the most action of his career, which had been derailed by a dislocated shoulder, tears in his Achilles tendon and calf muscle, a concussion and a Lisfranc injury.
“My past has been difficult in a sense,” Miller said on Jan. 4. “But for me to be able to put together 15 games, 16 games — everybody gets banged up late in the season, but I’m good moving forward.”
Miller often expressed his gratitude to the Bears for believing in him. Former general manager Phil Emery initially signed Miller in 2014. GM Ryan Pace then re-signed Miller for last season, despite him spending all of the previous regular season on injured reserve.
“For them to come in and still believe in me and give me that opportunity means the world to me,” Miller said. “I can’t say enough about it.”
The Bears had to be mindful with the construction of Miller’s contract. He is 31 years old and his injury history can’t be ignored. Even last year, Miller dealt with a broken rib and missed the season finale because of an injured toe. Having an incentive-laden deal helps both sides.
The Bears have been busy on the tight-end market because of Bennett’s situation. Rob Housler was re-signed to a one-year deal, while veteran Jermaine Gresham turned down the Bears’ offer to return to the Cardinals.
The Bears also met with Arkansas’ Hunter Henry, who is considered the top tight end in the draft, at the NFL Scouting Combine.
But Miller is the key piece moving forward. He already has a rapport with Cutler and the faith of the organization. And this is where he always wanted to be.
“I haven’t been around a team or a group of coaches, a staff similar to this as far as everything they do and their vision of winning,” Miller said Jan. 4. “It’s exciting.”
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