By BOB LABRIOLA
It can be argued that Heath Miller already is the best tight end in Steelers history. If he completes the contract he signed on Wednesday, he'll have the time to erase all doubt.
Miller, who would have entered the final season of the contract he signed as a No. 1 choice in the 2005 NFL Draft, has a new six-year deal from the Steelers that binds him to the team through the 2014 season.
Even though Miller rarely finds himself among the NFL leaders among tight ends in receiving, he has been considered the league's best two-way player at the position for the last couple of years. At 6-foot-5, 256 pounds, Miller is the type of player who used to man the tight end position before Kellen Winslow and the San Diego Chargers re-defined it a generation ago.
In doing a deal with Miller at this time, the Steelers showed the regard in which they hold him.
If, as is widely being reported, the NFL and its players union to not come to an agreement on a labor extension in the upcoming months, the 2010 season will be an uncapped year. In that event, players cannot become unrestricted free agents until they have completed six NFL seasons.
Even though his rookie contract was set to expire, Miller only would have qualified to be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2009 season, which means the Steelers essentially could have prevented him from hitting the open market with a high tender offer.
But with the new deal, that is all a moot point, and Miller is in a position where he will spend the prime years of his career in a Steelers uniform.
Miller enters the 2009 season having started 61 games in the regular season and all eight postseason games the Steelers have played since he came into the league. He has 168 catches for 1,932 yards, with 21 touchdowns. He has added 26 more catches for 348 yards and three scores in the playoffs.