After the somewhat surprising announcement that Heath Miller would be retiring from football, it left many fans questioning if the Steelers would make replacing the former first round pick a top priority this offseason.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say no. Here are 3 reasons why Pittsburgh doesn't have to reach to replace the all-time great tight end:
I know I sound like a broken record, but the Steelers need to focus a great deal of their cap space on their own free agents and possibly restructuring and/or extending their top players, such as Le'Veon Bell and David DeCastro, who's contracts expire following the 2016 season. For this reason, I don't think it's wise, nor is it financially feasible for the team to go on a spending spree at the tight end position.
Heath Miller, without any doubt, is the greatest TE the Steelers ever had. His presence and leadership will be missed, and are intangibles that cannot easily be replaced.
However, when looking purely at statistics, the Steelers offense is a product of spreading the ball around, something that took a noticeable hit on Miller's receiving numbers over the last few seasons. In nearly every measurable, Miller ranks among the bottom half of the NFL at his position. His absence won't lend to as a big of a hole as his peers, such as Rob Gronkowski or Greg Olsen.
Heath Miller's 2015 Receiving Stats
I would also point out that there are more than enough capable hands to pick up the slack, with Antonio Brown shattering receiving records, one of the NFL's best receiving backs returning from injury (Bell) and the other cast of weapons such as Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant.
The Steelers spent a 5th round pick last season on James, who took awhile to crack some playing time last season. He finally found his way onto the field against the Oakland Raiders, scoring his first (and only) touchdown of the season.
Mostly relegated to 3rd string duty (behind Matt Spaeth) James is a second year player who will have an enormous amount of pressure on him to produce. However, the actual pressure would be replicating his otherwise pedestrian numbers in absence of Miller. If James could grab between 40-50 balls, with a handful of scores, he would easily plug the gap that Heath leaves behind, as mentioned above, that the other 10-20 balls going Miller's way, should spread around to the rest of the receiving unit.
There you have it: Heath Miller left big shoes to fill, but the numbers are not impossible to make up for offensive production. If Jesse James and Matt Spaeth are capable enough blockers and can make up for an indispensable "go to guy" on 3rd down, Pittsburgh's offense shouldn't skip a beat in 2016.