Cameron Meredith

Former Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith released by New Orleans Saints

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USA TODAY

Former Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith released by New Orleans Saints

Ryan Pace was right.

The Bears general manager took some heat in 2018 when he placed an original-round tender on then-restricted free agent wide receiver Cameron Meredith and opted not to match the two-year, $9.5 million contract offered by the New Orleans Saints.

Almost 16 months later, it looks like Pace made the right call as Meredith is let go before the conclusion of that contract.

Meredith suffered a torn ACL in the preseason of 2017, missing the entire season leading up to his restricted free agency.

The Bears had concerns about the receiver’s health, long term, and those concerns proved justified over the last year. Meredith played in only six games last season before landing on injured reserve again with lingering knee issues.

He had another offseason surgery to clean things up, but evidently the Saints weren’t satisfied with his recovery through the beginning of training camp. He was due to cost over $4 million against their salary cap, and they save more than $3 million by releasing him.

Teams will likely still see his potential from the 888-yard season he produced in 2016, and he should get another chance in the NFL at some point. Staying healthy is the main obstacle, and coaches will want to see how much the knee issues limit his athletic ability.

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The Bears were right to let Cam Meredith go…and to draft Anthony Miller 

The Bears were right to let Cam Meredith go…and to draft Anthony Miller 

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.

Cameron Meredith dubbed Chicago Bears' biggest offseason mistake

Cameron Meredith dubbed Chicago Bears' biggest offseason mistake

The Chicago Bears have an exciting wide receiver room this season with the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller. Former first-round pick Kevin White is even getting some love in offseason workouts. But could the depth chart have been even better?

According to Bleacher Report, GM Ryan Pace's decision to let Cameron Meredith leave town was the team's biggest offseason mistake.

The Bears don't appear to have made many mistakes this offseason, but letting restricted free agent Cam Meredith get away could come back to bite general manager Ryan Pace. 

While Meredith missed the entire 2017 season after suffering a horrific knee injury during the preseason, he looked like a breakout star in 2016. The Illinois State product caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four scores that season, despite playing mostly with backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.

Pace's approach to Meredith was a curious one. Whether it was the receiver's poor fit in the new offense or a concern about his recovery from knee surgery, the same issues or concerns could be raised about Robinson, whom the Bears signed to a three-year, $42 million deal. Both Robinson and Meredith are now participating in on-field drills which suggests their scheduled recovery time is pretty similar.

Meredith had a breakout season in 2016, the year that was supposed to belong to White. Meredith quickly developed into the offense's primary target after White fractured his ankle in Week 4. He finished the year with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns and was a popular choice to emerge as one of the league's top young receivers in 2017. Then came the devastating preseason knee injury.

The Bears began the offseason with a clear plan and it's pretty obvious that Meredith was never a big part of it. The speed at which Pace acted to sign Robinson and Gabriel, while Meredith remained dangling as a restricted free agent, is proof of that.

Meredith should enjoy a productive season with the Saints. In fact, he could end up with better numbers than one or more of the Bears' starters. If that happens, Pace will have even more questions to answer about why he let him go.