LAKE FOREST — Bears tight end Zach Miller announces his retirement: 'I physically cannot give the game and our fans what they deserve'
Zach Miller says it is “a blessing in itself” that he is able to walk without aid.
It was just short of 18 months ago that Miller nearly lost his left leg because of a grisly injury while trying to make a touchdown catch for the Bears in New Orleans. He needed nine surgeries before he could progress from standing to walking to most recently jogging.
But despite the difficult recovery, he wasn’t ready to give up on playing football again. On Tuesday, however, he officially closed that chapter of his life.
Miller, 34, announced his retirement in an Instagram post after 66 games in six NFL seasons.
“The time has come to move on from playing the game of football,” Miller wrote. “It has been an incredible journey for myself and my entire family and we can’t thank you enough for your continued support. I would love more than anything to step on Soldier Field one last time but I physically cannot give the game and our fans what they deserve.”
While attending a banquet to receive the Ed Block Courage Award last week, Miller indicated he would make a decision about his career by the time the Bears went to training camp so he wouldn’t take up more of the team’s resources.
The Bears signed Miller to a one-year contract last year even though he wouldn’t play. The deal allowed him to continue to rehab and be a part of the team off the field. But as Miller’s rehabilitation progressed over the last several months, he continued to encounter challenges, including pain when he jogs.
“Physically, I’m changed,” Miller said. “I have certain limitations, and I’m working on that. It’s a new normal, pain you kind of have to deal with. I still have some nerve issues going on I’m trying to adjust to, and I’ll see where that takes me. But yeah, it’s a little different.”
Miller started as a quarterback at Nebraska-Omaha before the Jaguars selected him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft and converted him to tight end. He played parts of three seasons with the Jaguars before a series of injuries sidelined him for three straight seasons.
He re-emerged in 2015 with the Bears to total 34 catches for 439 yards, and he followed with a career-high 47 catches for 486 yards in 2016. He was having another solid year in 2017 before he dislocated his knee and tore the popliteal artery in his leg during the game against the Saints.
After emergency surgery to save his leg, he said he experienced “probably the lowest points I’ve had in my life” over the next couple of days before he told himself, “This ain’t me.”
“I can’t change where I’m at, so dust yourself off, let’s look ahead and attack this thing,” he said.
Miller’s Bears teammates and coaches, as well as people who have contacted him after suffering similar injuries, have expressed appreciation for how he has handled the journey since. His teammates voted to honor him with this year’s Ed Block award, given to a player who displays “professionalism, strength and dedication and is a community role model.”
And they paid tribute to him on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.
“For making us better both on (and) off the football field — thank you #86,” the Bears wrote.
“So much love and respect for this dude. Wishing you and the fam nothing but the best!” tight end Trey Burton wrote.
Miller finished his career with 146 catches for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns, though he would argue it should be 16 touchdowns because what he considers a catch in the end zone when he was injured was controversially overturned.