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Bears allow TE Zach Miller to test open market

Zach Miller Miller had a breakout year in 2015 with 34 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games. Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Chicago Bears plan to let veteran Zach Miller test free agency next month, even though starting tight end Martellus Bennett could play elsewhere in 2016.

“What happens at this stage in the game is you understand the reality that a lot of times these guys have to hit the open market to set their value,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “I understand that’s the case with a lot of these positions. That’s the necessary place that we’re in right now. We like Zach, I don’t want to go through every one of our unrestricted free agents, but he’s a guy we’d want back and we’re negotiating with him.”

Finally healthy for an entire season, Miller had a breakout year in 2015 with 34 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games (14 starts).

All five of Miller’s touchdowns occurred in the final eight games he played. His 87-yard touchdown reception in Week 10 at St. Louis is the second-longest reception ever by a Bears tight end and tied for the seventh-longest overall in franchise history.

Miller also made one of the top plays of the season when he hauled in a game-winning 25-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter at San Diego in Week 9.

Prior to his arrival in Chicago, Miller saw game action with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2009 to 2011.

This wait-and-see approach by the Bears is risky.

San Francisco just signed tight end Garrett Celek to a four-year, $14 million extension with $4.5 million guaranteed, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

In his four-year career, Celek has only 27 catches for 328 yards and the three TDs in 39 games, 10 of them starts.

The difference is Celek is 27 years old, while Miller is 31, with a long history of injuries.

However, Miller can make the case that as a fellow pass-catching tight end he deserves a deal in the same ballpark as Celek’s.