Cameron Meredith - Restricted free agent - I was so pumped to see Meredith develop last year. His ascension from undrafted free agent to practice squad player, to part time wide out, to 66 catches and 888 yards in his second year was fun to watch. His catching, ball security, route running and yards after catch ability noticeably improved through his 2016 season. He was primed to be a big part of the offense last year, but a preseason ACL injury stole his 2018.
“Training camp, for sure, I’ll be back,” Meredith said on January 1, via ESPN’s Jeff Dickerson. “Right now it’s staying on pace so that I can do that. Yes, [I expect to make a] full recovery.”
If he can come back healthy, and these days returning from an ACL injury is commonplace, expect him to be starting for the Bears this year.
Kevin White - Signed through 2018 - Another of the injured Bear wide outs, but his entire three year career has been defined by injuries. He didn’t play a snap as a rookie, he only played 191 snaps in 2016, and last year he only managed to get through 47 snaps before his third straight season ending injury. None of his injuries have been related, so there’s a chance his luck could turn in 2018.
He’ll be back in camp for sure, his rookie contract almost guarantees that, but he’ll have a lot to prove.
I look at White’s prospects the same way I did last year. If he’s able to give the Bears anything, that’s a bonus. They can not head into the season expecting anything from him.
Kendall Wright - Free agent - Wright was supposed to be the slot guy, complementing two legit outside receivers, but he ended up leading the team with 59 receptions and 614 receiving yards. I wouldn’t mind seeing what he can give the team if utilized in the role best suited for him.
Dontrelle Inman - Free agent - The good news is that the Bears didn’t lose a draft pick in the trade that landed them Inman, so they essentially got to try him out for free. He picked up 7 starts in 8 games, and had 23 receptions for 334 yards. He can play outside and in the slot, so bringing him back could make sense for the new coaching regime.
Josh Bellamy - Restricted free agent - Bellamy had his best season as a pro last year, and I have a feeling he’ll be somewhere else in 2018 and have another career year. He was needed on offense last year down the stretch so the Bears took him off of special teams, which had been his bread and butter.
His catches, yards and targets all went up in 2017, and his drops went down. I know it was the popular thing to crack on his lack of skills, but he had a relatively decent season.
Markus Wheaton - Signed through 2018 - I thought Wheaton, if healthy, would add some much needed athleticism to the offense, but surgeries and injuries slowed the start to his Bears’ career. Once he was finally healthy, he struggled to earn playing time and he ended up with only three catches last year.
The Bears gave Wheaton most of his guaranteed cash in 2017, so cutting him will only result in $750,000 hit in dead cap money, but a savings of $5 million in their cap space. I can’t see the new coaching regime wanting to keep Wheaton around at that cost when they can give that cash to a better prospect.
Mekale McKay - Signed through 2018 - McKay is a decent enough athlete, but at 6’5” he needs to show that he can play big. The Bears are his fourth team since being an undrafted free agent in 2016 out of Cincinnati and he’s never been able to catch on.
DeMarcus Ayers - Signed through 2018 - Ayers had 6 receptions for 53 yards for the Steelers last season. He also must have had a growth spurt, because at the NFL Combine he measured 5’9”, but as a pro he’s been listed at 5’11”. Ayers had some return skills at the University of Houston, and as a wide out he’s best served by sticking to the slot.
Tanner Gentry - Signed through 2018 - I was excited for Gentry’s potential after the Bears signed him an an UDFA last year. He had a good college career, and he specialized in the deep ball at Wyoming, but he has some physical limitations that held him back. Perhaps an offseason of training like a pro athlete will improve his quickness and speed, and he’ll be able to make the roster in 2018.
Gentry did pick up three starts last year, and among the wide outs signed for 2018, he’s among the team leaders.
The top three receivers under contract by the Chicago #Bears based on 2017 stats are Tanner Gentry (3 receptions), Markus Wheaton (3 receptions), and Kevin White (2 receptions).— Windy City Gridiron (@WCGridiron) February 1, 2018
It’s safe to say wide receiver is a huge need for the Bears.
2018 OUTLOOK - The Bears need a reliable wide out. The’ll bring RFA Meredith back, that’s a no-brainer, but after him there’s a lot of unknown. White will be around, but what is he at this point in his career? Wheaton is a potential cap casualty. Do any of the young guys on futures deals have what it takes to make an impact?
Patti looked at some free agent options right here, Chicago Bears’ Number Mill: Free agent receivers, Part One, and Jacob looked at some free agents and draft prospects here, How can the Bears fix their need at wide receiver this offseason?
Of the top free agents, I’m not sold on Jarvis Landry. I think he’s a really good player, I just don’t think the Bears should pay him elite #1 wide out money, and that’s likely what he’ll get. I like a couple Jaguars as free agents. First Allen Robinson, who will be coming off an ACL like Meredith, but he’s shown true #1 skills in the past. His Jacksonville teammate, Marqise Lee, won’t command as much money, but he has a lot of upside.
The odds on favorite free agent wide out is the Chiefs’ Albert Wilson. He’ll step in knowing head coach Matt Nagy’s system, and he’s coming off the best year as a pro (42/554/3). He’s another small slot guy (5’9”), but at 200 pounds, he’s a well put together athlete.
The Bears need to draft a receiver at some point, I would just rather the Bears not take one in the first round. I just don’t like the value of taking a guy at eight this year unless he’s a difference making player like Julio Jones or DeAndre Hopkins. The guy most mocked to the Bears in the first is Alabama’s Calvin Ridley. While I do think he’s going to be a good NFL player, he’s not going to be Odell Beckham Jr. good.
A guy like D.J. Chark of LSU in the fourth round could make sense. This receiver class has solid depth, so the 6’2” Chark, who had a nice week at the Senior Bowl, could be the field stretcher the Bears are looking for. Then again, his Senior Bowl performance was so good, being named co-Most Outstanding Player, that he may have moved up into the third round where the Bears currently have no picks.
Make sure you check out Patti’s and Jacob’s articles that I linked above for more draft and free agent targets, because you can expect the Bears to add a receiver via both avenues.