The Pittsburgh Steelers' all-time leading tight end in receptions and receiving yards, Heath Miller, retired this week, ending his eleven year career in the NFL. The two-time Super Bowl champion was the first round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the 2005 NFL draft; a selection that allowed him to experience a Super Bowl championship as a rookie on the team when it won Super Bowl XL, and be a contributing factor to the team's sixth Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.
The move vacates the top of the depth chart at the tight end position for Pittsburgh, a spot which the team could consistently rely on Miller to fill for over a decade. Miller's skills allowed him to be one of the better blocking tight ends in the league, as well as a dependable target for Ben Roethlisberger to throw to in key situations.
What Miller leaves behind is a legacy of a loveable Steeler who never complained and exemplified the persona of the ultimate Steeler. His attitude was always blue-collar, never acting out for more opportunities or money, and always being a leader for the team.
What opens up for the future in Pittsburgh is cap space. $4 million will open up for usage in 2016 due to Miller's retirement, something that the Steelers will most certainly use to lock up some of their young stars. Miller would have created a cap hit of $7,181,668 in 2016. The $4 million in cap space that opens up from his retirement was his base salary, while the extra $3,181,668 will still be paid to Miller in the form of prorated earnings, and exist as "dead money" for the next season on Pittsburgh's roster.
Miller would have had the seventh highest cap number of any Steeler in 2016 under the current contracts that are set. But his move allows for Pittsburgh to look to invest in other areas for the future. The Steelers have lost multiple fan favorites to retirement over the past two seasons in Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, and now Heath Miller.
These moves show the Steelers' current trend of shedding bigger contracts for older players. Something that may signal a change in the contract of Lawrence Timmons, the linebacker with the team's second highest cap number for 2016 that will be 30 at the start of the next season. Timmons is still a leader and a very good player, but his $15,131,250 cap number in the final year of his contract in 2016 makes for a hurdle which the Steelers would like to preempt.
While Pittsburgh would not want to lose such an important player in its defense outright, his base salary of $8,750,000 certainly draws attention him as an offseason task to deal with as the franchise moves forward.