How Will Heath Miller’s Retirement Affect The Steelers Offense?

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller called it quits Friday, after 11 superb years in the league. His departure will surely be missed. Miller was one of Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to guys, when he really needed to get things done. His departure will surely affect the way the Steelers offense operates this season. Miller may have lost some speed, but his importance can’t be overstated.

How important was Miller to the Steelers offense? Roethlisberger actually shed tears when he talked about his big target leaving. Big Ben wasn’t ashamed of admitting it, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“He told me it was official, that he was retiring,” Roethlisberger said. “He thanked me for being his teammate and said how lucky he was to play with just one quarterback for all of his 11 years in the NFL. I told him he had it all wrong. I told I was the lucky one.”

Roethlisberger considered Miller his greatest teammate.

“It’s hard for me to talk about him. It really is. Where do you start? I could talk about him all day. But I don’t know where to start.”

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Miller was the epitome of dependability. He missed only eight regular season games in 11 years. The former first-round pick out of Virginia started 167 of his 168 career games and never missed a postseason start. His legacy as one of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets is all but secured.

According to the Pittsburgh Steelers site, there are only 12 tight ends in league history with more than 6,000 receiving yards, and Miller is one of them. Miller was the kind of player who didn’t mind doing the dirty work of blocking instead of catching passes and touchdowns. He was the working man’s tight end. He was classic Steel City work ethic.

But where does this put the Steelers offense? The gaping hole Miller leaves has to be filled. The sure-handed safety valve over the middle is gone.

The Steelers have some decisions to make. Before the news of Miller’s retirement Friday, the team was looking at a reasonably solid tight end depth chart entering the 2016 season. Now with Miller out of the equation, a musical chairs rotation could be in effect.

If the Indianapolis Colts decide to let Dwayne Allen walk, he could be a fast fix for the offense. During his four years with the Colts, Allen has played in 43 games and has caught 91 passes for 1,045 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 11.5 yards per reception. He has doubled as a receiver and a blocker. But his primary role was as an extra offensive lineman. That fits the Miller recipe perfectly.

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The possibility of Allen testing the free agent waters is a good one. Taking a good look at him wouldn’t hurt. Hunter Henry is a rare college tight end that has blocking ability also. He may be another option for the Steelers. Most analysts believe he can step in and start as a rookie.

Miller was scheduled to count $7.81 million against the 2016 salary cap, and the Steelers now can use those funds to address other needs. Getting his replacement is the first step.

The Steelers have a lot of work to do. With Miller gone, offensive coordinator Todd Haley can design more routes for slot receiver Marcus Wheaton, but the blocking aspect is still questionable. The Steelers have options to plug the gap, but they also have to consider who will be most effective.

Miller’s presence was valuable on and off the field. He was truly the last of a dying breed. Miller’s presence was so appreciated, Roethlisberger cast his team MVP vote for him every season.

It’s hard to replace a Steel City legend.

[Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images]