Report: Bears shockingly let Cameron Meredith walk, refuse to match Saints' offer

For a second straight offseason, the Chicago Bears are letting a homegrown, talented, and young receiver walk in free agency. A year after watching Alshon Jeffery leave for Philadelphia, the Bears will reportedly part ways with Cameron Meredith

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Bears decided on Wednesday to not match the two-year, $10 million offer sheet that the Saints gave to Meredith, a restricted free agent. It's a stunning and controversial decision by Bears general manager Ryan Pace.

Meredith, who successfully made the transition from college quarterback to NFL receiver, blossomed in 2016 when he caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns. Impressively, he hauled in 68 percent of his targets. Even more impressively, he posted those numbers even though quarterbacks named Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer combined to start 11 games. Unfortunately, Meredith's 2017 season was derailed before it even began. In the preseason, he suffered a serious knee injury, including a torn ACL. 

The Bears, who signed WR1 Allen Robinson and the speedy Taylor Gabriel in free agency, placed an original round tender on Meredith, which meant if another team signed him to an offer sheet and the Bears refused to match that offer, the Bears would lose him for free. And that's exactly what happened. Last week, the Saints gave Meredith an offer sheet worth $10 million over two years, which the Bears refused to match just before the deadline on Wednesday. 

The Bears' decision to let Meredith walk is likely all about how they view his health. If they thought he was guaranteed to make a full recovery, they probably would've matched the offer. This decision likely signals that they think Meredith holds too much risk because of his injury. Nobody will know for sure until Meredith takes the field again.

Now, Meredith joins the Saints, where he'll catch passes from Drew Brees and line up alongside Michael Thomas. It's a fantastic situation for Meredith, who not only joins a better team but gets more money. For the Saints, it'll be a bargain signing if Meredith, still only 25, can make a complete recovery from his knee injury.

Back to the Bears, because this changes the entire outlook of their offseason. Suddenly, they're in play for another receiver, even after signing Robinson and Gabriel. Former first-round pick Kevin White has played in five games in three seasons, so he can't be counted on, though he'll now certainly get another chance to prove his worth. Josh Bellamy is best suited for a backup role. That doesn't mean the Bears will spend the eighth-overall pick on a receiver, but expect them to address the position at some point in the draft.

The thing is, this situation -- losing Meredith for free -- should've been avoided. The Bears gave Meredith an original-round tender, which would've paid him roughly $1.9 million in 2018. If they had given him a second-round tender, they only would've been committing about $2.9 million (one million more) to him in 2018. That likely would've guaranteed Meredith's spot with the Bears considering if another team like the Saints signed him to an offer sheet, which the Bears refused to match, they'd be forced to give up a second-round pick. For some reason, the Bears decided that they'd be OK with paying Meredith $1.9 million, but $2.9 million was too much. As a result, they're now losing him for nothing when they could've had him at a cheap rate of $2.9 million in 2018.

To be clear, the Bears' mistake wasn't declining to match the offer, though one can certainly make an argument they should've matched. The mistake was trying to save $1 million during the tendering process. It could end up being a costly mistake if Meredith regains his 2016 form. 

Pace has had a wildly successful offseason by surrounding weapons around young, promising quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. But his handling of Meredith's free agency will likely be scrutinized. 

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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