Forgive Ryan Pace if he suspects that someone somewhere is sticking pins in a Bears GM doll, probably in the hands or knees, since that’s where decisions on wide receivers play out. And Pace has had more difficulty getting wideout positions taken care of than perhaps any other position group.
Pace had to deal with undoing the Brandon Marshall knot not long after arriving. The blow from trading away a 100-catch wideout might have been softened had the Alshon Jeffery situation worked out, but that ultimately unraveled, too. Pace was entitled to believe that he was creating a quality hedge against losing Jeffery when he went all-in on his inaugural draft selection of Kevin White.
If White didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all, and Pace has gone through the hope-disappointment cycle with White for each of the past three years. On a parallel track, Pace landed Eddie Royal in 2015, a veteran slot receiver who’d played no fewer than 14 games in any of his previous seven NFL seasons but was available for just nine in each of his two Bears seasons.
Pace certainly didn’t ignore wide receiver last offseason but too many of his tries to upgrade the position were his own whiffs rather than bad injury luck. Markus Wheaton was guaranteed $6 million, while Victor Cruz, Dontrelle Inman, Tre McBride, Ruben Randle and Deonte Thompson, among others, came and went.
Meanwhile, Jeffery was easing his way out of town after a brief stop for a franchise tag, with the Bears getting not even a compensatory pick for losing a Pro Bowl wide receiver, while Jeffery was getting a Super Bowl ring.
Pace at least got back in the Marshall trade a fifth-round draft pick that turned into safety Adrian Amos. Jeffery’s exit was not as productive.
And neither was Wednesday’s farewell to Cameron Meredith, the former Illinois State quarterback discovered by Pace and converted to a very productive wide receiver who led the Bears in catches and yards in 2016. Meredith tore an ACL and MCL last preseason, a devastating blow to a young wideout, of whom the Bears thought enough to already have broached the prospect of a contract extension before the knee injury.
This offseason, however, because of concerns over the knee condition, Pace and the Bears were willing to go only as far as a $1.9-million prove-it tender offer for one season. It was an amount that gave the Bears the right to match any offer sheet but not to receive any draft compensation if the Bears opted not to match and Meredith walked.
Pace ostensibly felt that Meredith’s prospects for a comeback weren’t worth an extra $1 million, to the level of $2.9 million, which would have cost the second-round draft choice from any team signing Meredith away. The New Orleans Saints evidently had a different takeaway from their medical exam of Meredith and last week signed him to an offer sheet calling for $9.6 million over two years, this after the Baltimore Ravens also were formulating an offer based on a more encouraged medical evaluation of Meredith’s knee than Pace and the Bears apparently had.
The whole thing leaves some curious questions.
Was Meredith’s knee worth nearly a $2-million guaranteed ante-up, but not $3 million? If it was bad enough to discourage the second-round tender, then why was it worth the not-insignificant sum of $2 million at all?
Allen Robinson’s torn ACL was worth a guarantee of $25 million in the former Jacksonville Jaguar’s multi-year package? But Meredith’s wasn’t worth about one-tenth of that for one prove-it year?
Risk vs. reward?
Pace effectively backed himself into a corner with the low tender. When other teams came calling with offers, had Pace matched an offer that was substantially higher than what he was willing to offer, he would then have been in the position of initially saying that Meredith wasn’t worth risking $2.9 million on, then reversing, contradicting himself and saying Meredith was worth almost double that in the form of the $5.4 million New Orleans guaranteed in its offer sheet. The Bears are not in cap jeopardy, meaning that even after the Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel signings for the passing game, Pace and the Bears could’ve afforded $1 million. Unless they didn’t think the knee risk was worth it, but then it goes back to why was the knee worth nearly $2 million guaranteed anyway.
Best guess is that Pace adds a wide receiver in the draft. That was going to happen anyway, subject to best-available’s remaining on draft weekend. It doesn’t really affect Kevin White, who’s unfortunately found-money if he turns into anything at this point of his sad career. The Bears didn’t let Meredith go because they knew they could count on White.
But what exactly Pace CAN count on at a position that has confounded him in his tenure is a mystery, as it has been year after year after year. Last year Pace was willing to invest $2 million on backup quarterback Mark Sanchez as a support player for Mitch Trubisky, but also on Sanchez as a chance to hit on depth for a position that always needs it. Pace was willing to guarantee $18.5 million for a chance at Mike Glennon’s perceived upside.
But not $1 million additional for Meredith, a player who’d actually had a quality year within recent memory?