Cameron Meredith

Bears letting Cameron Meredith sign with New Orleans has big implications for draft, Kevin White

Bears letting Cameron Meredith sign with New Orleans has big implications for draft, Kevin White

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. 

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. 

Saints reportedly sign Cameron Meredith to offer sheet, will Bears match?

Saints reportedly sign Cameron Meredith to offer sheet, will Bears match?

A second Bears player this offseason was signed to an offer sheet on Friday afternoon.

According to multiple reports, the New Orleans Saints have signed Bears' restricted free agent wide receiver Cameron Meredith to an offer sheet. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, it's a two-year deal worth $9.6 million — $5.4 million guaranteed — with incentives.

In 2016, Meredith had 66 receptions and 888 receiving yards while catching four touchdowns — when Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson was with the Bears. Heading into last season, he was the Bears' top wide receiver, but a torn ACL in the team's third preseason game ended his year before it even began.

Looking to give Mitch Trubisky some more weapons in his sophomore season, the Bears went out and signed Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. The Bears would surely like to bring back Meredith to play on the opposite side of Robinson, and they will have five days to match the offer.

Last month, the Green Bay Packers signed cornerback Kyle Fuller to an offer sheet, but the Bears matched the four-year, $56 million deal.

Will Ryan Pace & Co. do the same for the 25-year-old wide receiver?

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

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USA Today

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

The Bears’ offseason program begins Tuesday, with players allowed to report to Halas Hall for rehab, strength and conditioning work. Attendance is voluntary, and the first time the Bears’ non-strength/training coaching staff will be able to work with players will be during April 17-19’s voluntary veteran minicamp. 

But this week will be the first opportunity for Matt Nagy and his players to set the tone for the 2018 season, with OTAs and minicamps to follow over the next two months. So as the offseason program gets underway, here’s where the Bears’ depth chart stands, starting today with the offense:

Quarterback

1. Mitch Trubisky
2. Chase Daniel
3. Tyler Bray

The Bears could look to sign an undrafted free agent later this month to, at best, compete with Bray — who was only guaranteed $45,000 in his one-year, $795,000 deal, according to Spotrac — and at worst be a camp arm to have in Bourbonnais. Both Daniel and Bray know Nagy’s offense well, which is why they’re here. 

“So now you get Chase and Tyler that both know the offense, that are there to just from both sides help Mitch out,” Nagy said. “But yet, they’re both going to compete. So now Tyler goes in there. Tyler is very accurate, has a really strong arm with great accuracy. And really has grown into a really good person and than as a player, he hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunity. And now unfair to him at the end of the game there, you know, he had that one play, and there were some different conditions and different scenarios. That’s now who Tyler is, but he knows his role and he’s just going to help out Mitch.”

Running back

1. Jordan Howard
2. Tarik Cohen
3. Benny Cunningham

While there are some questions about Howard’s fit in Nagy’s offense — which requires its running backs to be reliable pass-catchers — the only running back in franchise history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career will have a prominent role in 2018. Cohen’s versatility fits a lot of what Nagy wants to do, and he’ll have more help around him this year than he did in 2017, when opposing defenses were able to double-team him without leaving themselves exposed. 

Cunningham reportedly will return to the Bears, which doesn't necessarily take Ryan Pace out of the market to draft a running back. But the Bears like Cunningham's leadership, pass protection skills and special teams play, all of which may be traits difficult to find in a mid-to-late-round running back.

But the focus on this unit is how Howard and Cohen can play off each other. 

“They’re completely different, right? But you can you use them in different ways,” Nagy said. “You can move them out and if they want to go ahead and try to cover you with a linebacker or cover you with a safety, that may predicate, dictate what you’re going to do offensively. I think you’re seeing that because of those two things, injuries and then because of positional flexibility of being able to get matchups.”

“X” and “Z” (outside) wide receiver

1. Allen Robinson
2. Kevin White

1. Cameron Meredith
2. Joshua Bellamy

Meredith isn’t officially back in the fold yet, as he remains a restricted free agent following the Bears’ decision to place an original round tender — worth $1.907 million — on him last month. Here’s reportedly attracted interest from the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, but hasn’t signed an offer sheet, which the Bears would have the opportunity to match. The Bears were prepared for this, though, and teams are able to present offer sheets to Meredith through April 20. 

“When we tendered him that way, we know these are some of the circumstances,” Pace said. “So we’re monitoring it closely. We know we’ll have a decision to make if an offer comes in, and we’re prepared for that.”

If the Bears were to lose Meredith, drafting a receiver would become a priority. But Nagy wants to give White every opportunity to succeed, and if the 2015 first-round pick makes the roster, he probably won’t be a part of Chris Tabor’s special teams units. That’s generally a requirement for reserve receivers — Bellamy is a special teams ace — and would mean that if the Bears do draft a receiver, he’ll probably be someone who can contribute on special teams. The point: Don’t look for the Bears to draft a receiver in the first round, and potentially not in the second round, either. 

“Zebra” (slot) receiver

1. Taylor Gabriel
2. Tarik Cohen

The primary responsibility for the “Zebra” receiver in Nagy’s offense is to play the slot, but it’s a versatile position that looks to be an ideal fit for these two diminutive, speedy players. Nagy said the Chiefs’ coaching staff scouted Cohen during the pre-draft process a year ago, though it didn’t sound as extensive as the Saints’ work on him.

“Y” (in-line) tight end

1. Adam Shaheen
2. Dion Sims
3. Ben Braunecker

“U” (split out) tight end

1. Trey Burton
2. Daniel Brown

The Bears are set at tight end, roster-wise, with Shaheen, Sims and Burton topping the depth chart and Braunecker and Brown solid special teams contributors. 

The boom-or-bust potential in this unit is huge — Shaheen and Burton combined last year for only 35 catches and 375 yards, but also combined for eight touchdowns. At best, Burton can be a highly-targeted matchup nightmare between the 20’s, with Shaheen an excellent finisher in the red zone. At worst, neither player takes the step the Bears envision, and the productivity from this position doesn’t improve much from 2017’s mediocre-at-best results. 

“(Burton) was the second, sometimes third, tight end in Philadelphia,” Nagy said. “Well, now we’re going to put him in a role where those numbers are going to be able to jump up. And that’s on us to be able to do that.”

Left tackle

1. Charles Leno
2. Bradley Sowell

Left guard

1. Eric Kush
1A. Earl Watford

Update: The Bears made official a one-year deal with Watford on Tuesday. The 27-year-old former Arizona Cardinals interior offensive lineman has played in 42 games, starting 22, in his four-year NFL career. 

Center

1. Cody Whitehair
2. Hroniss Grasu

Right guard

1. Kyle Long
2. Jordan Morgan

Right tackle

1. Bobby Massie
2. Bradley Sowell

A few options are here as the Bears look toward the NFL Draft next month. If Quenton Nelson is available when the No. 8 pick comes around, re-uniting the former Notre Dame guard with Harry Hiestand would be a layup. Nelson projects as a longtime Pro Bowler, and with the pool of quality offensive linemen shrinking seemingly by the year, it doesn’t matter that he’s “only” a guard. 

But for those reasons, the chances Nelson makes it to No. 8 may not be good. The Bears could opt to draft an interior offensive lineman with their second-round pick — as they did with Cody Whitehair in 2016 — and have him compete with Kush, Morgan and/or Grasu in training camp. Or the team could stick with Kush, who played well in 2016, and perhaps look to draft Massie’s eventual replacement at right tackle. Either way, it’d be surprising if the Bears didn’t take at least one offensive lineman in the draft.