The Bears are staring down their deadline to re-sign receiver Cam Meredith.
The team has until 3 p.m. Wednesday to inform the Saints whether they’ll match their offer sheet, signed Friday, which is worth $5.4 million guaranteed and $9.6 million total, plus incentives, over two years.
The Bears could have kept the wide receiver for $2.914 million in 2018 had they given him a second-rounder tender as a restricted free agent. That would have dissuaded teams from offering him a contract, as they would have had to give up a second-rounder to sign him.
Instead, the Bears gave Meredith an original round tender, which would have paid him $1.907 million in 2018 but didn’t attach compensation from an outside team.
Meredith visited the Saints, Ravens and Colts before signing New Orleans’ offer sheet. The former Illinois State quarterback intrigued the Saints, whose receivers coach, Curtis Johnson, served in the same role with the Bears in 2016, when Meredith caught a team-best 66 catches for 888 yards.
Meredith will land softly regardless of the decision — either with a Super Bowl contender and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, or with his hometown team. Meredith attended St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester.
At issue, as much as performance, is the health of Meredith’s left knee. The 25-year-old tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Bears’ third preseason game. The Saints were comfortable enough with his medical reports to offer $5.4 million guaranteed. At issue is whether the Bears feel the same way.
Without Meredith, the Bears rank third in the NFL with 17.8 percent of their 2018 salary cap spent on wide receivers, per Spotrac. They added Allen Robinson ($11.06 million) and Taylor Gabriel ($5.5 million) this offseason. They’ll pay Kevin White $5.27 million in the last year of his rookie deal and Josh Bellamy $1.91 million after he signed a restricted free agent tender.
Still, the Bears had about $33 million in top-51 cap space, the fifth-most in the league.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace matched another offer sheet this offseason — last month, after the Packers signed cornerback Kyle Fuller, who was under the transition tag, to a four-year deal. It took the Bears mere hours to decide to keep Fuller. Regardless of Wednesday’s outcome, Meredith didn’t get the same quick treatment.