Bears

Zach Miller grateful for contract with Bears: 'I don’t think that would have happened throughout the league'

Zach Miller grateful for contract with Bears: 'I don’t think that would have happened throughout the league'

The last time Zach Miller had a press conference, he had to use crutches to gingerly make his way onto the platform on which the podium stands in the Halas Hall media room. On Tuesday, Miller walked normally to the podium, and quipped to the crowd of media assembled: “You guys can’t get rid of me, huh?”

Miller has been around Halas Hall during the Bears’ offseason program, but was guaranteed a place in the building to continue his rehab after signing a one-year contract worth the league’s veteran minimum on Monday (he was placed on the reserve PUP list on Tuesday in a procedural move). Getting to continue to use the team’s facilities and work with the team’s doctors and training staff is the “biggest part” of his contract, Miller said. 

And that contract was a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed, with former center Olin Kreutz tweeting “this is what winning looks like” and defensive end Akiem Hicks saying that he’s happy to be “a part of an organization that will take care of its players.”

But more than anything, Miller is grateful for George McCaskey, Ryan Pace and the organization for doing something they didn’t have to do. 

“That’s a testament to the entire organization and the McCaskey family,” Miller said. “I think you guys all know that the NFL is a big business. It’s a little different here. When you talk about business and football, this thing is really a family. I don’t think that would have happened throughout the league.”
 
It would seem unlikely Miller ever plays football again after he suffered a gruesome leg injury back in October that nearly led to amputation and required nine surgeries. Miller isn’t jogging yet, and only recently re-gained nerve function in his injured left leg. 

Miller said he’s okay not playing football again, but isn’t ready to rule that out yet. 

“My thing is to just get as strong as I can get to get to that point,” Miller said. “I don’t want to push it. I’m not going to take it slow, at all. I’m not going to baby it. I’m going to do what I can, when I can, and push those limits, but I’m not going to rush getting back into it. I don’t think that’s a good decision. I’ll just try to make it happen as fast as I can, but we’ll have to see when that is.”

Miller isn’t just using Halas Hall to rehab, though. He’s been a presence in the Bears’ tight end room ever since he got back here last December, and said he’s getting a little taste of what it could be like to coach once he officially ends his playing career.

At the least, though, being around his teammates is giving Miller a boost to his already positive attitude. And with this contract, he’ll continue to be a presence around Halas Hall going forward. 

“This could be very difficult, you know what I mean,” Miller said “I could be away and kind of 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 on me. That stuff matters. Having that positivity adds to my happiness. It’s for sure helps me in my recovery.”

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

The conventional wisdom with the Bears is Ryan Pace needs to improve depth at running back and defensive tackle ahead of training camp practices starting – finally – next week.

But reality played out a little different this week. The Bears reportedly signed defensive back Marqui Christian Tuesday, adding depth at safety and on special teams. He, essentially, replaces Jordan Lucas – who opted out of the 2020 season – on the Bears’ roster, even though kicker Ramiz Ahmed was cut to make room for him.

It makes sense. The Bears are tantalizingly close to actually seeing their 80-man roster in action, and displacing someone with a big-ish-name free agent might run counter to their plans. Once the Bears can get a look at some of those guys on their roster – like running back Artavis Pierce and defensive tackle John Jenkins – maybe they’ll look to make a move.

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Also: The Bears have about $17 million in cap space right now that can roll over to 2021, which would help offset what could be a $23 million drop in next year’s cap. It might not be a bad idea to save money now and avoid difficult cost-saving cuts later.

But if the Bears do try to pick off some of the more recognizable names available in free agency, these five players could make sense:

DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison

Eddie Goldman’s decision to opt out immediately led a lot of folks (myself included) to Google “Snacks Harrison free agency” to make sure he was still available. The good news: He is! The bad news: He’s reportedly contemplated retirement in the past, and the 32-year-old is thinking about getting into the podcast game…

… which is something someone might do when they’re expecting to have a lot of time on their hands, right?

Harrison had a down 2019 with the Detroit Lions and may not even want to get back into football amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If he does, though, the Bears should certainly consider signing him as a rotational veteran to help soften the blow of Goldman’s opt out.

DT Marcell Dareus

The 30-year-old Dareus only played in six games last year before a core injury ended his season. Listed at 6-foot-3, 331 pounds, Dareus might be the best fit to replace Goldman as an anchor of the Bears’ defensive line – so long as he’s healthy.

Dareus – the third player selected in 2011’s draft – did see his play drop off a bit in 2019 before his injury. Still, he’s an experienced and adept run-stuffer, the kind of guy who could help the Bears’ defense in base and sub packages next to Akiem Hicks.

RB Devonta Freeman

It feels weird that Freeman is still available in mid-August, but he’s an unfortunately perfect example of the short shelf life of running backs. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015 and 2016, ripping off consecutive 1,000-yard rushing years while amassing over 1,000 receiving yards and 27 total touchdowns.

His play tailed off in 2017, then was hit by injuries in 2018 and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 14 games last year. Freeman fired his agent this offseason and signed with Drew Rosenhaus, who said in July he was hoping to get him signed by the end of the month (https://twitter.com/AdamSchefter/status/1285726771816673287). You have to wonder if Freeman is asking for more money than teams would be willing to give him. Or, a possibility that would be smarter: Maybe he’s waiting to see if a team needs a No. 1 running back due to a training camp injury or positive COVID-19 test.

Either way, Freeman makes sense for the Bears in that he’d provide a veteran backup to David Montgomery. But do the Bears make sense to Freeman if he’s squarely behind Montgomery on the depth chart? Maybe not.

RB Spencer Ware

A more realistic option at running back, if the Bears want to add to that room, would be a guy in Ware with ties to Matt Nagy. The former Kansas City Chiefs running back had 921 rushing yards and 447 receiving yards in 2016, the first year Nagy was Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator.

MORE: Five things we've learned about Bears' rookies 

A brutal knee injury suffered in 2017’s preseason derailed Ware’s career, and he only played in three games last year after the Chiefs brought him back off the free agent scrap heap. The 28-year-old, though, has familiarity with Nagy’s scheme and could at least provide some much-needed veteran competition for Pierce and former undrafted free agent Ryan Nall.

PK Graham Gano

The Bears dumped Ahmed to make room for Christian, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster. Pace’s preference is to find a kicker for cheap after the Cody Parkey disaster, hence last year’s competition and a long leash with Pineiro.

But if Pineiro falters at all during camp, the Bears should probably find room on their 80-man roster for a kicker to compete with him. Gano might cost a little more, and the 33-year-old missed all of 2019 with an injury, but his strong leg and decade of experience would certainly push Pineiro – if not replace him.

 

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Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

For now, Eddy Piñeiro can breath easy: 

You'll remember, the Bears brought Ahmed into the building back in mid-April. The kicker, who played his college ball at Nevada, went 15/20 on field goal attempts in his 2018 senior season. Ryan Pace and co. signed him to push Piñeiro, who had an up-and-down first season in Chicago. As JJ Stankevitz points out, the move likely has to do with the team's reported signing of a defensive back on Tuesday: 

As it stands now, Piñeiro's job is once again safe. For whatever it's worth, it sounds like Piñeiro, who struggled with distance last year, has put on some muscle this offseason. In a recent interview with media, Bears' special team's coordinator Chris Tabor had this to say: 

"I'm going to be honest with you, first day we went out and kicked -- and I hadn't seen him kick since the Minnesota game -- you're looking at a bigger, stronger Eddy Pineiro," he said. "I was very impressed. You could tell that he matured, he's really more comfortable." 

So good news, Bears fans: there will be no summer kicking battle this year. You can put the aspirin away.