- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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PITTSBURGH -- This is the fourth in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season -- and take a look ahead.
The good: Heath Miller came back sooner -- and played better -- than anyone could have expected less than a year after he tore several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL. Miller played the fifth-most snaps (874) among offensive players despite missing the first two games of the season and seeing limited action in the third. Miller caught 58 passes, third most on the Steelers, for 593 yards. He also proved to be just as valuable as a blocker, and Miller and Matt Spaeth really bolstered the ground game when they were on the field together.
The bad: Miller had uncharacteristic drops and scored just one touchdown. Spaeth played in only four games, missing the first 12 because of a foot injury. The Steelers did not get much out of David Paulson and Palmer beyond special teams, and Johnson played in just five games before dislocating his wrist and landing on injured reserve. Miller's absence at the start of the season exposed the Steelers' lack of quality depth at the position.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Miller's cap hit will be just under $9.5 million but the Steelers can lower that number by signing the ninth-year veteran to a new deal. Miller is going into the final year of his contract, and I will be shocked if the two sides don't reach an agreement on a new deal sooner rather than later. The drop-off after Miller is significant, and he is still one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. The work ethic that allowed Miller to return to the field less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery also bodes well for him continuing to play at a high level despite the advancement of age. Spaeth's cap hit this year is just over $1 million, making him a bargain if he can stay healthy. My guess is the Steelers will bring Johnson back since the price will be right given that he has played just five games in the last two seasons. The Steelers would probably feel pretty good going into training camp if Miller, Spaeth and Johnson are their top three tight ends and they add another one in the draft.
Draft priority: Higher than it looks. Miller isn't getting any younger and the Steelers certainly aren't oblivious to the matchup problems big, athletic tight ends with soft hands create in a league that is clearly a passing one. There are a couple of tight ends in this year's draft with the potential to be that kind of player. Eric Ebron tops that list, and the former North Carolina star looks like a transcendent talent. Ebron could be in play with the 15th overall pick even though the Steelers have more pressing needs, particularly on defense. I think the Steelers draft a tight end this year, but where they take one is anybody's guess.