After five days of suspenseful waiting, the Chicago Bears decided on Wednesday to not match the offer that restricted free agent wide receiver Cameron Meredith signed with the New Orleans Saints, letting their most productive receiver from the 2016 season leave. The move was shocking, to say the least, as the team does not have a good backup plan in place, nor do they have a reliable starter to take over Meredith’s spot. Injuries were reportedly a catalyst behind Chicago’s decision, but, considering the reasonable price the Saints signed him for - two years for $10 million - it is still surprising that the Bears chose not to match the deal.
The move is made even more surprising when one considers the fact that Allen Robinson, their prized free agency acquisition, is also coming off of an ACL injury, and the Bears signed him to a much larger contract than the Saints offered Meredith.
It also puts the Bears in a bit of a predicament. Barring injury, Robinson and fellow free agent signee Taylor Gabriel will indubitably be in the starting lineup to start the 2018 season. However, the depth behind the two at the wide receiver position is questionable. The only other receivers on the roster not on futures deals are Kevin White and Joshua Bellamy. The former is an injury-prone bust whose resurgence seems nearly impossible at this point, while the latter is a special teams standout who shouldn’t be asked to catch passes on a regular basis.
Needless to say, the Bears are one Allen Robinson injury away from having one of the league’s worst groups of receivers again.
It is very likely that they will end up targeting a wide receiver early in the draft. Although picking one in the first round is highly unlikely barring a trade back, the Bears could choose to target a weapon in the second round or on Day 3 of the draft. Players like Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Maryland’s D.J. Moore and Memphis’ Anthony Miller figure to be in the conversation for them in Round 2. Sleepers like Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton and Texas Tech’s Keke Coutee could be targets if Chicago decides to wait until later to address the need.
However, doing so would prevent the Bears from plugging a major hole at one position or adding a future starter at another. Offensive guard and edge rusher are still pressing needs, and they could be in the market for a cornerback, inside linebacker, offensive tackle, or defensive end. With wide receiver now joining those ranks, it is going to be tougher for the Bears to come up with solutions at multiple positions.
Is Meredith a star player? No, he is not. Is it possible that he would not be a fit in new head coach Matt Nagy’s fast-paced, West Coast system? Yes, it is. Is there the possibility that he may not be the same after his injury? It’s possible, considering the fact that he doesn’t seem to be all that far along in his recovery.
But it would have been smart of the Bears to give him a shot. Now, they are going to have to get creative to avoid another catastrophe.