New Orleans Saints

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. 

If the Saints didn't draft Alvin Kamara, would they have drafted Tarik Cohen?

If the Saints didn't draft Alvin Kamara, would they have drafted Tarik Cohen?

ORLANDO — It’s too simple to say the New Orleans Saints would’ve moved to draft Tarik Cohen had Alvin Kamara not been available in the third round of last year's draft. 

But coach Sean Payton and the Saints’ front office had a fourth-round evaluation on Cohen, and liked what kind of player he could’ve been in their offense. 

“We just valued a certain group of players at that position,” Payton said last week at the NFL annual meetings. “Tarik was a target for us, a guy that we said hey, here are the first round targets, we had Kamara in the second, we had Tarik as a fourth-round target. Those were guys that stood out that we liked.”

Kamara went on to be an integral part of the Saints’ playoff run, scoring 14 touchdowns and winning offensive rookie of the year honors. Cohen had a flashy rookie season, too, though not near to the level of Kamara — though, for what it’s worth, Cohen hardly had a similar surrounding cast of teammates as Kamara did with the playoff-bound Saints. 

That’s not to say Cohen could’ve put up similar numbers to Kamara had he been drafted by the Saints instead of the Bears, of course — that would be taking too much away from Kamara. They’re different players, too: Kamara is listed at 5-foot-10 and weighs 214 pounds; Cohen is 5-foot-6 and 179 pounds. 

But here’s what Payton said when asked what he liked about Cohen’s game:

“His hands and his ability to adjust, he looked real smart, he’s got the makeup you’re looking for,” Payton said from the NFL’s annual meetings. “He just reminded us of a younger (Darren) Sproles, and we saw someone we felt like we had a clear vision for.”

The similarly-diminutive Sproles had some of his best years in Payton’s offense, and that comparison has been thrown around quite a bit with Cohen — but not necessarily by someone with the gravitas to say it as Payton, under whom Sproles had plenty of success from 2011-2013. That’s worth something. 

The Bears played the Saints in Week 8 of the 2017 season, and while Cohen only touched the ball five times in that game, he was coming off back-to-back weeks in which he 1) threw a touchdown and 2) caught a 70-yard deep ball from Mitch Trubisky. There was plenty else that he put on tape that impressed coaches around the league, and not just Payton, given how frequently opposing defenses double-teamed him in 2017. 

But for Payton, seeing how well Cohen played during his rookie year was somewhat vindicating, given the evaluation he had on him. 

“When the draft ends and you begin the season, of course there are players that you like that go to other teams,” Payton said, “and then when you see them have success, you’re like boom, I was right.”

Bears Coaching Confidential: Pete Carmichael

Bears Coaching Confidential: Pete Carmichael

The Bears enter Week 2 of their coaching search having interviewed six candidates. Could the team's search expand beyond those six, and involve two coordinators with direct ties to general manager Ryan Pace? Today, Paul Aspan and I will look at New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. 

JJ: Carmichael has been in the NFL since 2000 and has been the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator since 2009. He’s 46 and a Super Bowl champion, but hasn’t been the recipient of a whole lot of head coaching buzz in the last few years. The Bears haven’t interviewed him, and despite Ryan Pace’s connections to New Orleans, there hasn’t been anything connecting Carmichael to Chicago. But is there any chance Pace doubles back to the Big Easy for an interview here?

Paul: On the surface, it’s a bit surprising that we did not hear his name as Pace scheduled his first round of interviews….but then again, maybe it’s not. To your point about their familiarity, Pace already knows what he does -- or doesn’t -- have in Carmichael. Even if the Bears were interested, they did the right thing spending that precious first week getting to know the guys that they are not familiar with. Add the fact that the Saints had a playoff game yesterday and there’s no need for Carmichael or defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who we’ll get into tomorrow, to have this distraction hanging over them.

One offensive mind they did interview on Sunday is Chiefs offensive Matt Nagy, and honestly, after Kansas City's second half collapse on Saturday -- even without Travis Kelce -- the Bears probably only went through with the interview because it would be a terrible look to back out. 

I never seriously considered Nagy as a head coaching candidate for the simple fact that he just started calling plays for the final five games of the regular season. That’s not nearly enough experience and Saturday’s abysmal second half was just the nail in his candidacy coffin. 

JJ: There’s been far too much hand-wringing about the Bears interviewing Nagy less than 24 hours after his team blew a lead and crashed out of the playoffs. Good thing the San Francisco 49ers didn’t back out of hiring Kyle Shanahan after the Atlanta Falcons blew a bigger lead on a bigger stage, eh?

Were those two quarters of football bad? Yeah. It may have made for a slightly different conversation between Pace and Nagy than had the Chiefs won. But the focus of his interview likely wasn’t any different than the previous five interviews Pace conducted: What would your coaching staff look like? What’s your plan for Mitchell Trubisky? How do you plan to command a locker room?

If Nagy nails the answers to those questions...who cares if the Chiefs had two bad quarters in a wild card playoff game? Would it have been "better" for the perception of Nagy if the Chiefs lost 31-0? 

Anyways, back to some thoughts on Carmichael...

Paul: As for Carmichael, one of the most interesting/bizarre/concerning things about him is the silence surrounding his name when it comes to head coaching openings year after year. I remember Drew Brees saying during the Bears-Saints week this season that he "loves Ryan Pace" and Carmichael and Brees clearly have had a long and successful working relationship, so you would think that would work in Carmichael’s favor.

But it is Sean Payton’s offense. We talked about this with Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady, but working with a future Hall of Famer sure makes him look pretty good. Carmichael has that in Brees, and watching the Saints wild card win against the Panthers on Sunday, it sure looked like it was Payton, not Carmichael, calling the shots for the New Orleans offense with the game on the line. So where’s that leave him if he goes out on his own? 

But, JJ, I know when we first started going over names, this one caught your eye, so what’s your take on Carmichael?

JJ: Initially, before really doing any research, this one seemed to make sense: The guy who’s coordinated one of the best offenses in the NFL for years, won a Super Bowl and has an existing relationship with Pace. But diving a bit beneath the surface, this theme became clear: It’s Payton’s offense No. 1, and it’s run by a Hall of Fame quarterback No. 2. 

This line, from a 2016 article on CBS Sports, seems telling: “Carmichael is not one to politic for jobs or kudos.” Perhaps this is a two-way street: Carmichael isn’t getting much interest because the league views him as, at best, the third-most important person on the Saints’ offensive totem pole; and he’s not actively trying to change that impression, either. 

Nobody knows his organizational and motivational skills better than Pace, which doesn’t necessarily work in Carmichael’s favor. He may be one of those guys who’s a great coordinator but not a head coach. 

One final thing working against Carmichael: The Bears appear to be moving quickly on their head coaching search, as our own John “Moon” Mullin explained here. The team has conducted six interviews already and won’t interview Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, indicating they’ve settled on their initial list and may already be zeroing in on their No. 1 guy. 

If that’s the case, there’s no waiting out the Saints’ playoff run to avoid a distraction. Carmichael won’t be the guy.