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Family matters: Contract with Bears a ‘huge’ step in Zach Miller’s recovery

Despite all its sincerity, the idea that “football is a family” has varying degrees of reality in the billion-dollar world of the NFL. Sometimes it rings just a little bit hollow, often trumped by a harsher football truism: “We’re in a production-based business.”

But as tight end Zach Miller stood at the lectern in the media room at Halas Hall on Tuesday, he was the walking, talking embodiment of the notion held so dearly by the McCaskeys that Bears football indeed is about family.

Miller still is recovering from a devastating injury last Oct. 29 in New Orleans that nearly cost him his left leg, required nine surgeries to repair and almost certainly ended his NFL career. But he is still a Bear for one reason — because the McCaskey family still considers Miller one of its own. In a class move, the Bears signed Miller to a one-year contract that will pay him $790,000 if he plays this season and $458,000 if he does not.

Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller (58) talks to the media before practice at the NFL football team’s workout Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Lake Forest, Ill. The Bears have placed Miller on the physically unable to perform list one day after he signed a one-year contract. The team announced the move Tuesday. Miller is attempting to return from a gruesome injury last October that nearly cost him his left leg. | David Banks/Associated Press

“That’s a testament to the entire organization and the McCaskey family,” Miller said. “I think you guys know that the NFL is big business. It’s a little different here. When you talk about business and football, this thing is really a family. I doubt that [contract] would have happened throughout the league.”

Bears tight end Zach Miller talks to the media prior to the team's mini-camp practice at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. The Bears have placed Miller on the physically unable to perform list one day after he signed a one-year contract. (David Banks/AP)

Miller is progressing in his recovery. He said he just recently regained function of the damaged nerve that now allows him to move his foot.

“You talk about milestones, that’s one of the biggest ones,” he said. “That was huge. That day hit, and I wanted to have a party. [It was] just a little twitch, a little flicker. It wasn’t much. But when your foot hangs there for five months and doesn’t move, that can get defeating sometimes. So the first time it moved was pretty cool.”

Though Miller still holds out hope for a miraculous return to the NFL — “I’m not going to put any limits on [my recovery]” — it’s almost certain that his NFL career is over. He was put on the season-ending physically unable-to-perform (PUP) list on Tuesday. But signing with the Bears allows Miller to continue to use the Bears’ medical personnel and facilities in his recovery — and, just as important, allows him to be a valuable member of the team.

“That’s huge,” Miller said. “This could be very difficult. I could be away and removed from what I’ve been used to for a very long time — not having that brotherhood and not having people see me every day or check in with me. That stuff matters. Having that positivity adds to my happiness. It for sure helps me in my recovery.”

But it works both ways. Even when he can’t play, it’s good to have Miller around.

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“Everybody in here that knows Zach knows that he fits everything that we’re about,” first-year Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “We just thought collectively as an organization that without a doubt this is the right thing to do, and it’s a win-win situation for all parties. It’s a good story, and it needed to be done.”

Miller is not yet jogging — for the record — but recently has taken steps toward doing that. And while he hopes to play again, he also said he would be OK with not playing. He’ll still be able to play touch football with his kids in the backyard, and other casual activities.

“I’ve been doing that already now — hanging out in the backyard playing, which is fun,” Miller said. “I’ve got to make sure I don’t step in any potholes or anything at the moment. But that’s not a concern … when this thing’s all said and done. Regardless if I’m able to get back on the field, I’ll be able to have a pretty normal life.”