It all comes down to this.
Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Chicago Bears face a 3 p.m. Wednesday deadline decision on whether or not they want to match the offer sheet restricted free agent Cameron Meredith signed with the New Orleans Saints late last week.
After visiting the Colts, Ravens, and Saints, Meredith signed an offer sheet with New Orleans that included $5.4 million in guarantees and could be worth up to nearly $10 million over two years. That’s a bit more than the Bears had originally budgeted to retain Meredith, who would have received $1.907 million for the 2018 season had he played on the one-year low-round restricted free agent tender. And this might not have even be an issue had the team placed the second-round tender (valued at $2.914 million) on him, because there probably wouldn’t have been a team willing to risk losing a second-round pick had the Bears decided not to match the offer sheet. But here we are.
Allowing Meredith to walk wouldn’t really be the best look, as losing a receiver of his caliber at this particularly moment and without compensation isn’t an ideal way to build a position group. That leaves Chicago’s front office with a pretty big decision to make, and it’s one that could have a wide range of implications.
Not matching the offer sheet would open up another position of need on the offense heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel as free agents lessened the team’s need to draft a wide receiver early, which should allow the team to take the best player available when they are on the clock. Not matching Meredith’s offer sheet would effectively undo some of what they did in free agency.
So while the Bears signed Robinson and Gabriel, the depth of the position group would immediately take a hit if Meredith were allowed to leave. Kevin White is a high-profile name, but he is in a make-or-break year. Joshua Bellamy is a core special teams player who provides depth at the back end of the group. After that, we’re looking at three players who spent most of the 2017 season on the practice squad in DeMarcus Ayers, Tanner Gentry, and Mekale McKay.
That’s enough of a drop-off that should provide enough inspiration to retain Meredith on a modest two-year deal.