Chicago Bears: Does Cam Meredith’s Tender Change The Plan?

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18: Cameron Meredith
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18: Cameron Meredith /

The Chicago Bears have tendered Restricted Free Agent Cameron Meredith, but does that change their 2018, but does that mean that their plans have changed?

Many are still hoping for the Chicago Bears to reel in one of the big fish. Some out there would even like to see the Bears sign both Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson.  That’s understandable given that they are generally considered to be the two best on the market, but what about Cameron Meredith?

Now, however, we have news that the Chicago Bears have tendered Meredith with only an “Original Round” tender.  This gives them the right of first refusal only (since he was an undrafted free agent).  The question is, what are their plans and does this change anything?

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Cam Meredith Pre-Injury:

Prior to his injury, Meredith put up 888 yards on 66 receptions with 4 touchdowns. These were good numbers for an undrafted wide receiver, especially for one who used to play quarterback.  His 13.5 yards per reception were respectable and his 68% catch rate was very good for a rookie.  In fact, the only real blemish was 3 fumbles, but again, that has to be seen through the lens of a rookie learning the ropes of the NFL.

Everyone thought that Meredith was going to break out in 2017. In fact, Ryan Pace bet on it after missing out on his first two free agent targets (Ted Ginn and Kenny Stills).  Pace turned around and made Meredith the de-facto #1 WR for the Bears by not signing another top player at the position.  No, Markus Wheaton doesn’t count as he was only there to take the top off of the defense with his speed, not to be the top guy at the position.  That was Meredith’s spot.

Then came the injury, and in a pre-season contest no less. Meredith tore his ACL and went out for the entire season before his “prove it wasn’t a fluke” season had begun.  It was truly tragic.

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Chicago Bears

Cam Meredith Post-Injury:

So what can we expect from Meredith now that he’s almost done with his recovery? More importantly, how does this change the Bears plans for 2018 free agency?  The answer is it probably doesn’t impact them much at all.

Even if Meredith were completely healthy at this point, the only thing the Bears have to point to is a season with, at best, a number two wide receiver’s productivity. That is on top of the fact that no one knows, truly, how his knee is going to hold up once the off-season program starts.  Sure ACL surgery is becoming more and more routine, but it’s not yet to the point of being nothing more than a simple scope.

That means that the Bears are going to have to go into this year counting anything that he gives them as a bonus. They don’t have the luxury of hanging their hat on him this year.  Especially if they bring in Allen Robinson (another ACL injury player from last year) to man the number one spot.  They simply have to have at least one competent and non-pre-injured receiver on this team to pair with Robinson.

More to the point, even if the Chicago Bears carry six receivers, Robinson, Meredith, and White would all be coming off season-ending injuries.  The other three would include one slot receiver, a special teams guy, and then a player to be in the top mix. So of the three or four receivers expected to see the field regularly, 50-66% (depending on if they carry 5 or 6) of them will be coming off of a major season-ending injury?  Ouch, that’s a monumental gamble.

So What Can They Do:

The Bears are going to have to focus on finding a number two guy for the offense who does not come with an injury history and who can be productive. The reality of Robinson being released means that the player who best fits that mold, Marqise Lee, will not be available for the Bears.  So that means that the most likely place to find someone for that spot is in the NFL draft.

Some will ask here, “what about Sammy Watkins?”  Remember that he had a foot fracture in 2016.  His recovery also bled into 2017 when he had to have 2 screws inserted into his foot to stabilize the repair previously done. You can read his injury history here.

So, unless the Bears are going to go to battle with three of their top three or four wide receivers coming off of recent IR seasons, then it’s either Watkins or Robinson.  Given the two, Robinson has proven to be the more dynamic player. If I’m going to gamble, I’m going to swing for the fences.

This brings us back to the draft. The best case scenario for the Bears is to draft a partner for Robinson (if he is signed) early in the draft.  Someone who can help to prevent teams from double-teaming Robinson to take him out of the scheme.  That wasn’t a worry last year as no Bears’ receiver required a double team.  Robinson will most assuredly play the X position.  There are two players in the draft would fit the Z position profile for the West Coast Offense well.  One is Calvin Ridley and the other is Michael Gallup (who plays faster than his 40 time).  Neither have a recent injury history, and both look to be good fits.

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Can We Get Them?

Most think Ridley could be there with a trade down.  Gallup would have to be over drafted, however, as we do not have a third-round pick.   That is where he is projected. I highly doubt that we trade down and don’t take a wide receiver in the first.  So unless we’re going to draft a WR in both rounds one and three, it appears to be an either or.

The reality is, however, that this getting one of these players is the surest path to ensure that the Bears do not end up in the same position as last year. That was when they had no productive outside receivers and had everyone playing out of position to cover injuries.  It was tough watching the team play with multiple starting wide receivers on crutches or in walking boots.  That’s why Pace has to be careful not to put all of his eggs into pre-injured wide receiver baskets.

But What About Meredith?

The reality of his situation is that he is going to have to prove that he is both over his injury and ready to repeat and build on his pre-injury season. It will be much easier for him to do that without the pressure of having the team depending on him to come in and be the number two (or heaven forbid number one) guy.  He needs to work back in both carefully and slowly, and when he is ready to play.  He’ll have an opportunity to contribute to the multi-receiver offense that Matt Nagy likes to run.  If he’s healed, and he’s healthy, I’m absolutely confident that they will find a spot for him to contribute.  If not, then at least the team will have the players that it needs to be successful on offense.  Such is life after injury within the ultra-competitive NFL.

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