Cameron Meredith’s free agency interest speaks volumes of Ryan Pace’s talent evaluation

Restricted free agent wide receiver Cameron Meredith signed a two-year offer sheet with the New Orleans Saints on Friday, giving the Bears until Wednesday to decide if they want to match the deal worth nine million dollars and bring Meredith back.

Although many are questioning general manager Ryan Pace for not signing Meredith earlier, the contract and interest Meredith received this offseason speaks volumes for Pace as a talent evaluator.

Meredith was signed by the Bears as an undrafted free agent before the 2015 season. Meredith, who was a quarterback in college at Illinois State, transitioned to wide receiver later on and entered the NFL at the position. As a rookie for the Bears that season, he was forced into action due to several injuries to the team’s top wide receivers. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal, and Marquess Wilson all missed games that season due to injury and all finished the season on injured reserve.

Meredith’s two most productive games came games that season came against two of the NFL’s best defenses that season as he caught four passes against both the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals. In each game, he had a reception of 20 yards or longer. He provided the team with a wide receiver who had a mixture of both size and speed.

In 2016, another season-ending injury to White provided Meredith with another opportunity in which he made the most of. In his first start against the Indianapolis Colts, he caught nine passes for 130 yards and touchdown. He followed that up with a 11-catch, 114-yard performance the following week against Jacksonville. Meredith would finish the 2016 season as the Bears most productive wide receiver with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns.

Heading into the 2017 season, the Bears were looking at Meredith to potential be the team’s number one wide receiver, but a torn ACL in the third pre-season game sidelined him for the remainder of the season. His loss was felt throughout the season as the Bears weakest position on the field was at wide receiver.

This offseason, Meredith has generated interest from several teams, and the teams that are involved are intriguing. The Ravens, Colts, and Saints all had met with him before the Saints signing. All three teams currently have Pro-Bowl quarterbacks, two of which have won the Super Bowl. With the Colts, new head coach Frank Reich oversaw the Super Bowl Champion Eagles offense last year as their offensive coordinator and has had a long history with successful wide receivers.

The Saints signing Meredith is highly notable because the team has a very limited championship window due to quarterback Drew Brees’ age. Head coach Sean Payton’s offense is built around Brees and with one to possibly two years left before Brees retires, Payton needs to put the Saints in the best possible position to win now. The fact that the team would take a risk on a player returning from a torn ACL shows how much potential they see in him.

Ryan Pace has been criticized heavily for the team’s lack of wins over the past three seasons, but he has shown himself to be a good talent evaluator when it comes to the draft and finding unknown players. With Meredith, Pace found a quality wide receiver who is capable of being a reliable target in an offense and the interest by other teams this offseason reinforces it. Whether the team chooses to re-sign him or not is a different discussion, but Pace deserves credit for finding a player who drew interest from several of the NFL’s best offensive minds.

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