Brian Allee-Walsh

Did the Saints get a steal or a raw deal on Cameron Meredith?

When it comes to fourth-year wide receiver Cameron Meredith, either the Chicago Bears or New Orleans Saints has erred in its player medical evaluation and will have to live with its mistake.

Meredith officially became the Saints' newest member this week when the Bears declined to match New Orleans' two-year, $10 million offer sheet that reportedly includes $5.9 million in guarantees.

Granted, it's not a great deal of money by today's blockbuster standards and in light of the annual $15 million that the Cleveland Browns are about to dole out to wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

And yet the Saints' agreement blows the Bears' offer to the undrafted free agent out of the water — a one-year, original round tender of $1.907 million.

Know this: Meredith comes to the Saints on mended knee. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound former college quarterback continues to rehabilitate a surgically-repaired left knee that sidelined him for the entire 2017 season.

It was a bad injury — torn ACL and cartilage damage, one that he continues to rehabilitate even today. That's likely why Bears' officials low-balled him coming out of the gate, thinking perhaps that no team would dare take a flier on a player still in recovery stage.

Unquestionably, the Saints are taking a risk on Meredith, who worked his way up from fifth on the Bears' depth chart in 2016 to No. 1 entering their 2017 training camp. He burst to the forefront after catching a team-high 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns in 2016, similar to two productive seasons at Illinois State in 2013-14 after making the transition from QB to wideout.

Still, he went undrafted in the 2015 draft, though he did receive a prank call from someone claiming to be New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and would be taken with the 97th overall pick.

That didn't happen and ultimately Meredith went undrafted, eventually signing with his home-state NFL team. Meredith, 25, received a glowing endorsement from Saints wide receivers' coach Curtis Johnson, who served in a similar capacity on the Bears' staff in 2016 and compares Meredith favorably to former Black and Gold stud receiver Marques Colston.

A healthy, productive Meredith would address a major off-season need for the Saints as they head into the 83rd annual NFL draft April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium In Arlington, Texas. He is big, possesses good foot speed and has the skillset and mindset to play both inside and outside in the Saints' multi-faceted passing offense.

The Baltimore Ravens reportedly also pursued Meredith. In the end, he was swayed by the idea of catching passes from first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and playing a supporting role alongside stellar wideouts Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. in Coach Sean Payton's weekly game plan.

At first blush, it looks like a good move for Meredith (both financially and career wise) and the Saints.

Yet, I still wonder why Bears officials didn't do more to scare away potential suitors and safeguard the possibility of losing a good, young wide receiver.

They don't grow on trees.

So I ask: Do they know something New Orleans doesn't?

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.




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