Cameron Meredith is one of those guys you love to root for — a local kid who scrapped his way onto the Bears’ roster as an undrafted free agent, then put together a promising second season (66 catches, 888 yards) and was seemingly on his way to being a big part of a long-hoped-for offensive turnaround in Chicago.
So when Ryan Pace and the Bears did not place a second-round tender on Meredith, and then decided against matching the New Orleans Saints’ two-year, $9.5 million offer sheet for him, it felt like an odd decision at the time. Here’s what was written on this site, by this author, about the move:
“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.”
Consider this, then, a mea culpa: Pace made the correct call on three fronts: 1) not placing a second-round tender on Meredith, 2) not matching the Saints’ offer sheet and 3) filling Meredith’s void by drafting Anthony Miller. There’s no second-guessing here.
Had Pace put that second-round tender on Meredith, no team would’ve approached him with an offer sheet — the knee injury he, cruelly, suffered in the 2017 preseason was serious enough to overlook his productive 2016. It only would’ve cost the Bears an additional $1 million to put that second-round tender on him, but then they would’ve been stuck with a guy who wasn’t healthy while making a shade under $3 million.
Meredith was inactive for the Saints’ first two games of the season, and while his snap count and usage increased from Weeks 3-5 — finishing with a five-catch, 71-yard showing against Washington — that Oct. 8 game was the last time he was targeted. After playing 86 snaps in his first three games, Meredith only played 40 snaps in his last three before being shut down for the season.
But it’s not just that the Bears made the right call to let Meredith go. Replacing him with an over-the-hill Dez Bryant might’ve been fine, but a better option would be an improving rookie draft pick.
And Miller, who the Bears drafted by trading a fourth round pick to the New England Patriots to get back into the second round, is playing like he’s just that.
Miller caught a career-high five passes for 49 yards against the Buffalo Bills last week, and has consistently been running open since returning from a shoulder injury after the Bears’ off week. Had Mitch Trubisky made accurate throws, Miller probably could’ve had three touchdowns in Week 7 against the Patriots, for example.
“He’s got it physically, we all know that,” wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “But I think from the mental aspect of understanding the concept of our schemes, understanding defenses, understanding holes now — kind of how to slow down against certain coverages and all that good stuff. It’s starting to slow down, the game is starting to slow down for him. And he’s just, every week, he’s grinding to get better.
“He’s in the film room more because he can understand it now. He can study the opponents, he can know if it’s single high or if it’s shell and all that good stuff that helps you out and kind of gives you a tidbit here before we go, before you start, and he’s done a great job of that and hopefully — he will continue to improve on that.”
The Trubisky-Miller partnership, too, is one that could be a boon for the Bears’ offense for not only 2018, but for at least the next three seasons.
“He’s done a great job digesting all of it and just figuring out where he fits in all the concepts — how to run routes against man and against zone — and he puts his own little flavor on everything. So we just got to continue to get him the ball in open space, find those mismatches when a guy is on him and then take advantage of it. But he's done a great job. He's continuously getting better each week. And the more that me and him can throw and get on the same page and continue to build that great chemistry, the better we'll get as an offense.
The Bears liked Meredith, and gave him the respect of telling him in person that his hometown team wouldn’t be matching New Orleans’ offer back in April. Pace and this coaching staff would’ve been happy to see him be healthy and succeed with Drew Brees in New Orleans.
But keeping him, as it turns out, very well could’ve held this offense back. Instead of an ascending Miller, the Bears would have to overcome an injured Meredith.
So give Pace and the Bears’ front office credit. The move that was called the Bears’ biggest offseason mistake actually wasn’t a mistake at all.