Bears gaining alternative to Alshon Jeffery with Cameron Meredith's emergence

Bears gaining alternative to Alshon Jeffery with Cameron Meredith's emergence

One of the franchise-grade questions facing the Bears this offseason is the contract fate of Alshon Jeffery. It was a situation they addressed last offseason at some considerable cost in the form of their franchise tag ($14.9 million guaranteed), delaying for one prove-it season a decision on a 6-foot-3 wide receiver who averages just under 5 catches per game over his career.

But suppose, just suppose, the Bears had the option available of another 6-foot-3 receiver, one who also averages just under 5 catches per game this season, an admittedly smaller sample size, but has established in that shorter time frame that he can play all of the three wideout spots?

How would that affect their view of the perceived Jeffery Imperative, that they cannot afford to be without Jeffery going into their future? Check that: How WILL that affect their Jeffery view, because the season-ending leg injury to Kevin White (his own separate question) revealed that they have that designer wide receiver in Cameron Meredith — 6-foot-3, with 62 catches in 13 games (11 starts).

To use Jeffery and Meredith in the same sentence may have been laughable this time a year ago when Meredith played in just 11 games as a reserve. It shouldn’t be laughable now.

Meredith in fact gives the Bears at minimum a fallback as they contemplate the wide-receiver position in the coming months. To project him as a Week 1 starter in 2017, opposite White (the Bears hope) may be a stretch, but not nearly as much as it would have been a year ago, and arguably less of a wild idea than Matt-Barkley-as-starting-quarterback was (Meredith’s production has accelerated over the last three games, with 6, 9 and 9 catches).

And the Bears admittedly didn’t fully know they had what they had in an undrafted free agent who was a quarterback until his junior year at Illinois State.

“No, sir,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “It goes back to training camp when I think about Cam. You see the mistakes that young players make and you don’t know. They teeter, they flash. Cam showed enough last year, you’re intrigued by it.

“But is he going to take the next step, is he going to turn the corner, is he going to become a consistent player and not a flash in the pan and that to me, that’s where Cam has made the biggest jump is he’s become very consistent. He’s become reliable and the quarterbacks trust him.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Meredith has far exceeded others’ expectations of him — that’s how players become undrafted free agents, because of minimal expectations — but not his own.

“I wanted to become a starter in the league; I got an opportunity to do that so I can check that off the list,” Meredith said. “A thousand yards, getting close there (827). There are little step-by-steps to take to being a great player in this league. I’m just trying to take one week at a time.”

For comparison purposes, Jeffery caught 24 passes his first year as a starter, in 10 starts.

What adds to the intrigue with Meredith is that he is operating from an experience base far, far less than Jeffery, who missed four games with two different injuries his rookie season, seven games with a litany of injuries last season and four games to a PED suspension this year.

Meredith stepped into White’s vacant starting spot and delivered 20 catches in his first two starts. More correctly, he stepped up, not just into the job.

“Kevin was leading our team in receptions when he got hurt,” Loggains said. “You gotta give a lot of credit to Cam that he stepped up, made himself very valuable, a really important part of the offense.

“Where Cam really separated himself from the rest of the group was the ability to play all three spots. So we can move him around when guys do get banged up. Or we’ve been down in a couple of these games. All of a sudden you’re throwing the ball more and the receiver rotation starts to change. Cam gives you the flexibility: [Josh Bellamy] needs a break, [Deonte Thompson] needs a break, [Jeffery] needs a break? [Meredith] can step in at ‘X’ [split end], ‘Z’ [flanker, slightly off the line] and ‘F’ [slot or No. 3] and play, and that’s critical.”

That’s also called “leverage.”

Should the Bears trade for this Ryan Pace player?

Should the Bears trade for this Ryan Pace player?

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks wants out of L.A. It's no secret the Rams are trying to trade him, and he expressed his desire to be traded on Twitter on Friday.

The Bears have a need in their offense for a speed wide receiver, and Cooks has been one of the most explosive weapons at the position throughout his career.

Prior to last season's offensive meltdown in Los Angeles, Cooks recorded four-straight 1,000-yard seasons and averaged more than 15 yards per catch in three of those years. He's still only 26 years old and has plenty of juice left in his legs to offer his next team a similar level of production; he would be a dynamic complement to Allen Robinson and would round out Chicago's wide receiver corps.

And here's the thing: we know Ryan Pace loves his former Saints. He just rewarded Jimmy Graham with a two-year, $16 million contract despite a market that likely wouldn't have valued his services anywhere near that amount.

But Graham was one of Pace's guys from his days in New Orleans, and so is Cooks.

The Saints traded a first- and third-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft to move up for Cooks (they moved from No. 27 to No. 20 to select him). Pace was New Orleans' Director of Player Personnel at the time; his voice was a powerful one in the decision to acquire Cooks.

The biggest impediment to making a move for Cooks is his contract. He signed a five-year, $81 million deal with the Rams in 2018 and has a $16.8 million cap hit in 2020. With Robinson looking to break the bank on a contract extension in the coming weeks, it's highly unlikely the Bears will commit that much money to the wide receiver position. Any trade will have to include some kind of restructured contract or an agreement that the Rams carry a significant portion of Cooks' cap hit.

There's also the issue of compensation that the Bears could send to Los Angeles for a player as dynamic as Cooks. A trade would require at least one of Chicago's second-round picks. Maybe that's all it will take, but the Rams would be justified asking for more.

The dollars have to make sense and the compensation has to be appealing enough to get a deal done. But there's no doubt Pace is at least researching his options.

Cooks, unlike Graham, would be one of Pace's guys who Bears fans would welcome with open arms.

Bears land two potential starters in latest mock draft

Bears land two potential starters in latest mock draft

The 2020 NFL draft is less than four weeks away and now that the first wave of free agency is over, team needs have begun to crystallize.

For the Chicago Bears, that means youth at tight end and a starting-quality safety will be high on their draft wish list. According to Chad Reuter's latest 2020 mock draft, the Bears check both boxes with potential starters in the second round.

At pick No. 43, Chicago adds LSU safety Grant Delpit, who prior to the 2019 college football season was considered by most draft analysts to be the most gifted defensive player not named Chase Young.

Delpit's final season with the Tigers wasn't the best for his draft stock. He lacked the splash plays that made him a household name last season, but he still displayed the kind of aggressive and fearless style that would make him a strong complement next to Eddie Jackson, who the Bears want to get back to playing centerfield. Delpit will slide to the second round because he's an inconsistent finisher, but he'd offer great value for a Bears defense that needs an aggressive run defender on its third level.

At No. 50, the Bears snag a potential starter at tight end in Purdue's Brycen Hopkins

Hopkins is a wide receiver in a tight end's body; he's everything Chicago's offense has been missing. Regardless of who wins the team's quarterback competition this summer, a player like Hopkins has the kind of playmaking ability to instantly become one of the early reads in the offense's passing game. 

With veterans Jimmy Graham and Trey Burton already on the roster, a player like Hopkins could be eased into the lineup with the expectation that he'd eventually become the primary receiving option at the position by the end of his rookie season.

Not a bad second-round haul. It's critically important that Ryan Pace hits on his second-rounders, too. The Bears' next pick doesn't occur until the fifth round, which is usually when special teams players and practice squad candidates are added.