On Friday afternoon, Heath Miller’s retirement was announced, and with that the team loses a legend.
Heath Miller was as unsung as you can get in the NFL, at least to those outside of the organization and Steeler Nation. Everyone knows the chant after each catch, and he made 592 of them (sixth all time by a tight end in NFL history).
Miller was drafted with the 30th pick of the 2005 NFL Draft and became an instant starter. In fact, he started 168 regular season games in his eleven seasons in Pittsburgh. He was a consummate pro and a teammate appreciated by all. Ben Roethlisberger said Miller was the best teammate he ever had.
There have been some very exciting tight ends in the NFL over the past decade, with the likes of Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. Miller never received the accolades that they did, but he was as dependable receiving as he was blocking, and I will boldly say that outside of Tony Gonzalez, Miller was probably the best all-around tight end in the NFL since 2005.
The team has been resilient. They played without their starting running back too many times in the last two seasons. They also didn’t have Antonio Brown against the Broncos last month in the playoffs — but this may be the biggest blow yet. Whether it was setting the edge in the running game or being the safety valve for Roethlisberger, Miller really did it all.
Miller’s announcement has come one year before his contract was set to expire, which will help the Steelers against the salary cap (he was to be a $7.81-million cap hit). Though the extra cap room can be seen as a plus, replacing Miller is probably not possible. Most of the availabilities at the position are in the twilight of their respective careers, except for Dwayne Allen of the Colts or former Bengal Jermaine Gresham, who played last season in Arizona.
The Steelers drafted Jesse James last year, and while he has some exciting physical attributes, he is far from polished. Hopefully James sees this as an opportunity and steps up to the challenge to become the starter. Another option is the draft, where Hunter Henry from Arkansas is projected as a late first rounder, which would not allow the team to address the secondary, an area where most everybody feels needs attention.
To put it simply, Heath Miller is irreplaceable, most certainly for now, and he will be missed.