The Bears are losing wide receiver Cam Meredith, their top pass catcher in 2016, because they have decided not to match the $10 million, two-year offer sheet the restricted free agent received last week from the Saints, according to multiple sources.
The deal includes $5.4 million in guaranteed money, and additional incentives that could boost its total value.
Meredith came into training camp last year as the Bears’ No. 1 wide receiver after catching 66 passes for 888 yards in a 2016 breakout season. But in the Bears’ third preseason game of 2017, Meredith suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and missed the entire season. He is expected to be close to 100 percent by the start of the regular season, but the Bears weren't willing to gamble on that happening after splurging on three other receivers last month in free agency.
They signed former Pro Bowl WR Allen Robinson to a $42-million, three-year deal, although he is also coming off a torn ACL in his left knee, which ended his 2017 season after just three snaps. The Bears committed $26 million over four years to Taylor Gabriel and $32 million over four years to TE Trey Burton.
Without Meredith, Robinson’s rehabilitation takes on even more importance. And it’s even more critical that Kevin White stays healthy for a full season. He has played in just five games since he was drafted seventh overall in 2015, but will count $5.270 million against this year’s salary cap.
The Bears tendered the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Meredith at the lowest level, just $1.907 million, which is the draft-choice-compensation level. But, since he was signed as an undrafted rookie out of Illinois State in 2015, they receive no compensation from the Saints. Had the Bears tendered Meredith at the next-highest level of $2.914 million, they would have received a second-round pick as compensation. That would almost assuredly have prevented the Saints or any other team from extending him an offer. Meredith also visited the Ravens and Colts.
With the Saints, the 25-year-old Meredith will be reunited with Curtis Johnson, his position coach with the Bears in 2016. He will be working with future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees, and he joins a WR crew that includes Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn. Thomas has 196 receptions for 2,382 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons, while the soon-to-be 33-year-old Ginn still has the speed to take the top off a defense.