Letting wide receiver Cam Meredith go to the Saints was anywhere from — shudder — a massive personnel gaffe by Bears general manager Ryan Pace to — yawn — a calculated loss that should be fairly easily replaced in a Matt Nagy/Mitch Trubisky offense.
Right or wrong, Pace certainly knew what he was doing when he offered Meredith the same-round tender for $1.9 million in 2018 that allowed the Saints to sign the former undrafted free agent without compensating the Bears. With a second-round tender at $2.9 million, the Saints or any other team would have had to give the Bears a second-round pick to sign Meredith, which wasn’t going to happen, especially with Meredith coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. So for $1 million — less than six-tenths of 1 percent of the NFL salary cap — Pace could have virtually assured himself of keeping Meredith.
Pace didn’t shed much light on the decision to decline to match the Saints’ two-year, $9.5 million contract offer in a news conference Tuesday at Halas Hall to discuss the upcoming NFL Draft.
“There’s a lot that goes into that,” he said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into every one of those decisions. [Nagy] and I sat down and met with Cam and spoke honestly with Cam and wish him nothing but the best of luck.”
It’s worth noting, by the way, that when Pace wishes you “the best of luck,” you often get it. In the last two seasons, Bears players discarded by Pace have won the Super Bowl — Martellus Bennett and Shea McClellin with the Patriots during the 2016 season and Alshon Jeffery with the Eagles last season.
Though he was reluctant to discuss the specifics of the move, Pace did pretty clearly indicate that Meredith’s injury was the biggest factor in the decision. He suffered not only a torn ACL but also a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Titans in the third preseason game last season.
“Without getting into specifics, obviously he was coming off an injury,” Pace said. “We lean on our training staff and our [doctors]. I’ve got a lot of respect for Cam and a lot of respect for the organization he went to. We wish him luck.”
The Saints don’t appear to have the same reservations about Meredith’s ability to contribute in 2018. What’s the deal with that?
“We just went through our medical grades,” Pace said. “Every organization’s different. Every organization comes to different assessments.”
The Bears’ judgment in this case is an interesting facet to this personnel move. The Bears haven’t had a whole lot of luck with injuries — avoiding them or rehabilitating them — in Pace’s three seasons. Kevin White, Pace’s initial first-round pick (seventh overall) in 2015, has played in five games in three seasons because of various injuries. The Bears are likely to decline White’s fifth-year option, but Pace said the Bears will make the decision on that after the draft. Adding to the plot is the signing of wide receiver Allen Robinson — three years, $42 million with $25 million guaranteed — who is coming off a torn ACL in Week 1 last season.
Regardless of when Meredith is ready in New Orleans, Pace is comfortable finding a replacement in the upcoming draft.
“The trait that has to be there is good hands — natural hands,” Pace said when asked about the most important wide-receiver qualities for Nagy’s offense.
The hit-or-miss nature of the Meredith scenario is similar to many moves Pace has made with the Bears.
If Meredith blossoms with Drew Brees and the Saints, it won’t be a good look for Pace. On the other hand, if Nagy and Trubisky are all they’re cracked up to be, replacing Meredith shouldn’t be that difficult.