The Bears on Wednesday declined to match the New Orleans Saints’ two-year, $9.6 million offer sheet to Cameron Meredith, a source confirmed, meaning the wide receiver will have Drew Brees throwing to him in 2018, not Mitch Trubisky.
The surface-level optics of this decision could look bad for Ryan Pace if Meredith bounces back from his serious knee injury with production that matches or exceeds his breakout 2016 (66 catches, 888 yards). Not only was Meredith a productive, versatile receiver two years ago (he almost equally split time between playing outside and in the slot), but he’s a Berwyn native and Illinois State product who was mined as an undrafted free agent in 2015.
Feel-good stories don’t supersede football decisions, of course. Perhaps the Bears weren’t sold on Meredith’s medicals, or the prospect of having their two top receivers both coming off torn ACLs (with Allen Robinson the other). Meredith's injury, though, also included MCL damage.
Chicago’s decision to not match offer sheet that WR Cameron Meredith signed with the Saints was mainly a medical decision. Meredith is coming off a torn ACL and MCL, and Bears were hesitant to commit that much to a player coming off such a serious knee injury.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 11, 2018
Or perhaps the 6-foot-3, 200 pound Meredith doesn’t fit what Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich are looking for, in addition to the team's medical evaluation. That Pace and Nagy reportedly met with Meredith on Tuesday to inform him of the decision is a signal they're on the same page on this decision.
But whatever the reason, the Bears now have a clear need for a wide receiver. And Ryan Pace has opened himself up for plenty of second-guessing after committing so many resources to building the best possible structure around Trubisky this offseason. The Bears could've ensured Meredith would be on the team in 2018 had they placed a second-round tender on him, which cost about $1 million more than the original round tender but would've cost whatever team signed him a second-round draft pick.
Meredith's deal with the Saints is reportedly for two years and $9.6 million, with $5.4 million guaranteed. Had the Bears matched the Saints' offer sheet, they would've moved up to third in the NFL in wide receiver spending.
For the 2018 roster, Kevin White’s brutal injury history means counting on him as a starter — as was the case last year — is risky, even with better weapons at Trubisky’s disposal in Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. Those three players, along with Adam Shaheen, Tarik Cohen and to a lesser extent, Jordan Howard, give the Bears plenty of flexibility of how they can line up, and Gabriel’s ability to play both inside and outside would mitigate some of the risk with White. It’s worth noting only about one-third of the routes ran by Tyreek Hill — the “Zebra” receiver in Kansas City’s offense last year — were from the slot.
Whatever receiver, or receivers, the Bears wind up drafting, he’ll have to be two things: First, able to play both outside and in the slot; and two, ready to compete with White during training camp for playing time. There’s probably not a receiver out there worth the No. 8 overall pick — that looks a little too rich for Alabama’s Calvin Ridley — but nabbing one with a second-round pick is in play with Meredith gone.
The Bears still may have enough targets to make life easier for Trubisky this year, even without Meredith. But letting him walk and, presumably, looking to replace him through the draft does carry some risk — this is a decision that could backfire on Pace.