As he continues to recover from a devastating knee injury that nearly cost him his left leg, Zach Miller knows that the Bears didn’t have to sign him to a new contract.
But that’s exactly what they did Monday—inking the veteran tight end to a one-year deal—and Miller couldn’t be more appreciative of the gesture.
“That’s a testament to the entire organization and the McCaskey family,” Miller told reporters Tuesday. “I think you guys all know that the NFL is big business. [But] it’s a little different here. You talk about business and football, and this thing is really a family. I don’t think that that would happen throughout the league.”
Miller was informed that the Bears were going to re-sign him via a phone call from general manager Ryan Pace last Friday. The tight end was placed on the physically unable to perform list Tuesday, so he does not count against the 90-man roster.
Since hurting his leg last Oct. 29 against the Saints in New Orleans, Miller has received constant support from the Bears organization, led by chairman George H. McCaskey.
“It’s tough to put into words just really in general how they’ve taken care of me since Day 1, and that relationship with George personally and then with the entire organization has kind of blossomed,” Miller said, “I’m very thankful and just grateful to be a part of this family.”
The injury Miller suffered in New Orleans while trying to catch a touchdown pass was diagnosed as a dislocated knee and torn popliteal artery. Bears medical personnel helped save his leg by quickly diagnosing a vascular issue that required emergency surgery.
Re-signing with the Bears enables Miller to keep rehabbing his leg at Halas Hall under the guidance of the team’s doctors and trainers.
“I get to continue my routine that I’m familiar with and have the top medical care that I can get to give me the opportunity to have a full recovery,” Miller said. “I think that’s the biggest part.”
Miller told reporters that his knee is “getting stronger really daily” and he’s “continuing to work on strengthening that area, everything around it.” He also revealed he regained feeling in his foot within the last month.
“You talk about milestones; that’s one of the biggest ones, is that my nerve started to function again,” Miller said. “That was huge. That day hit and I wanted to have a party. Just that first 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. The first time it moved was pretty cool.”
Another positive is that Miller will continue to be surrounded by his teammates. When he’s not rehabbing, he’ll attend meetings and help his fellow tight ends any way he can.
“That’s huge, it really is,” Miller said. “This could be very different. 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, check in on me. That matters. That adds to that positivity, that adds to my happiness. That will for sure help me in my recovery.”
It’s unclear whether Miller will ever to play NFL football again, but he’s certainly not closing the door on the possibility at this point.
“Time will tell,” Miller said. “I’ll just put everything into it that I can and see where that takes me.
“I’m not putting any limits on that and really with my doctors and everybody I spoke to, we’re not going to put any set limitations on this. We’re just going to take it as it goes. There has not been a definitive, ‘You can never do this again.’ That hasn’t been talked about.
“So it’s approach this as I’m planning to get back to where I can be myself and play football, and then when that time comes some of that is out of my hands. So I’m just going to do as much as I can to get to that point and see what happens.”
Miller has had nine surgeries since suffering the injury, but he remains positive.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been mentally defeated—ever,” Miller said. “I feel good. I’m happy with where I’m at in my recovery. I’m happy with the steps that we’ve made. Positivity has been a quality that helps me through all this stuff. I’m in a good place mentally.”
The veteran tight end is eager to get back onto the field. But he’s going to be smart about the process.
“My thing is to just get as strong as I can get to be back at that point to play football,” 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 make it happen as fast as I can, but we’ll have to see when that is.”