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Hoge: Where things stand between Anthony Miller, Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Anthony Miller is a still a member of the Chicago Bears… for now.

Occasionally, a national report will pop up on Twitter reminding everyone the Bears are open to trading him – usually an indication that the market is cold.

Miller remains both a talented and unreliable wide receiver. He should be extremely motivated in the final year of his rookie contract, yet he’s also not a guarantee to make a 53-man roster. These realities create a tricky trade environment because the reward might worth a draft pick, but the risk might not.

Thus, Miller and his $1.21 million base salary remain on the Bears’ books for now. That number represents both a cheap salary for a slot receiver talented enough to catch seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2018 and an easy cap casualty should the Bears need some more wiggle room after the NFL Draft.

Regardless of where Miller plays in 2021, it is an extremely important year in his football career. If he fully commits to the game, he could still earn a sizeable contract next spring and be a very good slot receiver in the NFL for a long time. But if he continues to waste his talent, his career might not last much longer.

Anthony Miller on the Bears

After selecting center James Daniels with the No. 39 overall pick in 2018, Bears general manager Ryan Pace moved back into the second round to draft Miller at No. 51 overall, giving up that year’s third round pick as well as a 2019 second round pick. The move left the Bears without a first or second round pick in 2019, but the gamble appeared to be worth it after Miller delivered 33 catches and seven touchdowns as a talented, but raw rookie who was eased into a complicated system by playing just 54 percent of the offensive snaps.

The problem is, two years later, Miller was still limited to just 55 percent of the snaps in 2020, mainly because the coaching staff quickly realized they could trust rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney more than the third-year pro. Miller’s drop percentage was 5.3 percent last season and his quarterback’s passer rating when targeting Miller was just 74.7. It was 117.5 when he was a rookie. In each of the last two seasons, three interceptions have been thrown on passes intended for Miller. He’s had issues lining up correctly, running his routes correctly and his catch radius has sometimes appeared limited, perhaps due to ongoing shoulder issues.

Still, Miller has only missed one game in three seasons and a lot of his shortcomings can be corrected – if he wants to correct them. That might be worth giving the receiver one more chance and at least keep him around in training camp to see if there have been significant improvements.

The problem is, Miller appeared to seal his fate as a Bear back in January when he was ejected in the team’s playoff game against the Saints for punching cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The incident came after numerous warnings leading up to the game because the antagonizing cornerback had induced a similar punch from fellow wide receiver Javon Wims back in Week 8. The fact that all the receivers had been warned and Miller still got ejected made it an embarrassing incident for the entire organization. Bears chairman George McCaskey even voiced his frustration a few days later on WMVP-AM’s “Waddle and Silvy” show:

“I have a bigger problem with Anthony’s ejection because they sat him down and they told him, ‘Listen, watch out for this player. He’s a punk. He’s going to try to get under your skin. And with Darnell Mooney out, we really need you to be in this game and help this team.’ And Anthony had the benefit of having seen Javon’s experience. I think they need to be evaluated separately. I’ve got a bigger problem with Anthony’s ejection than I do Javon’s.”

Asked if he expected Miller to remain on the Bears in 2021, McCaskey responded: “That’s not up to me.”

That said, typically when the owner offers public criticism like that, the player should expect to play elsewhere.

Anthony Miller on a different team

It is reasonable to think a change of scenery could do Miller a lot of good. Perhaps he needs a simpler offense with fewer responsibilities. Perhaps being in a different city/organization will keep him more focused. Maybe age will help too – he turns 27 in October.

A team trading for Miller would acquire him for $1.21 million that is not guaranteed. It’s a relatively low-risk gamble. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s worth a draft pick, especially since McCaskey’s comments suggest an outright release is possible if the Bears can’t trade him. Then a team can sign him cheap without giving up a draft pick.

What’s next?

It would not be surprising to see Miller included in a trade on draft weekend. Mid-to-late round draft picks are constantly swapped on Days 2 and 3 of the draft and Pace is frequently involved in those movements. Miller could be included in one of those deals.

But if the wide receiver remains on the roster following the draft, it creates an interesting scenario. Is his talent worth bringing back for offseason workouts and training camp to see if anything has changed? Miller could still be a dangerous weapon in Matt Nagy’s offense and it’s a low-risk gamble for the Bears too.

On the other hand, it’s not hard to make an argument that cutting Wims after the first incident with Gardner-Johnson could have prevented the second incident with Miller. If Miller is still kept around, what kind of message does that send to the rest of team when it comes to accountability?

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, it seems unlikely that Miller’s talent will ever be realized with the Bears, which is a shame because he appeared to be a very promising draft pick in 2018. Perhaps that talent will be realized elsewhere.


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