September 10, 2003
Miller’s New Bling-Bling
by Keith Weiland
Billy Miller cashed in this week. He just inked a new 4-year, $4 million extension that will keep him around his buddy, David Carr, and off next year’s free agent lists. The deal reportedly includes a $1 million signing bonus.
Good for him. He’s earned the right for a big payday, that’s for sure. Miller has worked hard to earn his playing time in Houston since being jettisoned by the Denver Broncos, and he has some of the softest hands of any tight end in the league.
But… I’m just not sure I would have made this offer if I were the Texans. It carries a stench familar to Houston Rockets fans. Albeit a faint one, Miller’s signing has the distinct odor that the cross-town basketball team seems to emmanate when they unnecessarily lock up so-so players with rich contracts. Matt Maloney, Kelvin Cato, Moochie Norris… fine athletes on the hardwood, but not premier starters. Maybe Rockets honcho Carroll Dawson was wandering the halls at Reliant Park?
I know I’m being too harsh even mentioning Cato and Miller in the same article, so save your e-mails. The team’s leading receiver in its first season, Miller has a spot in the hearts of all Texans fans, including yours truly, for what he’s done on the field, most notably the touchdown he scored in the inaugural game against Dallas. Miller spent all of 2002 as Carr’s security blanket, at times the only reliable receiver in Steel Blue on the field.
And it’s not like that spot he has in our hearts is just some studio apartment on rent control. Dude’s got a crib, MTV-style. Now with his new contract, that crib can have some serious chrome sitting in the driveway, 22-inch rims, the works. Again, kudos to him, but wasn’t this the same player the Texans strung along all summer as a resticted free agent?
The Texans hoped to have drafted their tight end of the future last April, one who had the hands of Miller, but also had the size and blocking ability that Miller lacks. Those hopes are on ice right now, perhaps literally, as Bennie Joppru recovers from surgery to his pelvic floor while on the Injured Reserve list. Perhaps the team planned a salary structure with multiple tight ends earning more than the league minimum, but it does cast some amount of doubt on the early selection of Joppru.
Before I forget, too, in comparing Miller’s signing with any of the previously mentioned Rockets, there is one HUGE difference. NFL salaries are usually not guaranteed beyond the bonus money. The NBA, however, has a much looser cap than the NFL, and the each NBA team has far fewer players with which to tangle and sort financially.
So if Miller does continue to perform, then great. The Texans will have done well in securing a good piece to their championship puzzle, and they will have minimized the risk of having to bargain with him on the open market. The team missed this chance when failing to lock up tackle Ryan Young in a similar situation a year ago.
And if Miller doesn’t produce? With more talent at the skill positions this season, it seems more than likely that Miller’s role will only continue to fade. The bonus money becomes dead cap space if he’s cut loose. Not cause for a VH1-like Behind the Music on the meteoric rise and fall of our city’s beloved tight end, but the signing does mark something of a first for the front office.
Once Tony Boselli’s cap space realized in 2004, it remains to be seen if the Texans take a similar approach with two more accomplished starters approaching contract years, defensive end Gary Walker and cornerback Marcus Coleman. The team has done so well in minimizing dead cap space thus far (on everyone not named Boselli and Jermaine Lewis, that is), so the team does have the wiggle room to take a chance on a player they know firsthand is a quality person to have on the roster.
Tune in, drop out… So if I can churn two articles in one week, then I guess I can offer up a second game to watch this weekend.
Purdue @ Wake Forest, 11:00am CT, ESPN – Well surprise, surprise. It seems like Texan fans are dying to find a new free safety. This game feaures two of the better ones in college football. Purdue’s Stuart Schweigert (6’3" 213) is the headliner here, and possibly the only 2004 first-day prospect on the field. He’s well-worth a look as someone who may be tempting to GM Charley Casserly somewhere in the second round. For Wake, senior free safety Quintin Williams (6’2" 200) could be a late-round steal. Two other names to keep an eye on: For Purdue, it has to be inside linebacker and tackling machine Niko Koutouvides (6’3" 237), and for Wake, it’s Tyson Clabo (6’6" 315), a smart lineman with experience at both guard and tackle.
Keith Weiland only asks that you give him his Escalade and his two-way. Billy Miller Home