Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:
“Can you please explain this whole restricted free-agent thing? So the Bears tendered an offer to Cameron Meredith. He goes looking for an offer sheet. What would have happened if no one made him an offer? Does he remain a Bear? Does he have other options? I’m trying to make sense of all this talk of Ryan Pace messing up with the tender level he offered to Meredith. Did he really mess up? Should he have offered a higher tender? Did he misjudge Meredith’s worth on the open market? Or was this the right tender level to make? — John J., Parts Unknown
“Restricted free agents are players with three accrued seasons. An accrued season is defined as one with six or more regular-season games with the team. Yes, time on injured reserve counts toward this. Many of the players that become RFAs were undrafted when they entered the NFL, like Meredith. That is because draft picks are signed to four-year contracts and when a player has four accrued seasons, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. An an RFA, Meredith was allowed to shop for offers (an offer sheet specifically) from other teams. If no one had offered Meredith an offer sheet, his only option would have been to sign the tender the Bears made him at $1.9 million and play for them this season. Had the Bears elected to place a second-round tender on Meredith at a cost of $2.9 million, it’s safe to say no team would have signed him to an offer sheet because they would have had to fork over a second-round pick as compensation. At the original-round compensation ($1.9 million), the Bears receive no compensation because Meredith was undrafted. If the Bears misevaluated anything here, I think they figured other teams would not make Meredith an offer based on the medical evaluation of his knee. Obviously, there’s a difference of opinion between the Bears and the Saints when it comes to the health of his knee and his value in the immediate future — this season and in 2019. If Meredith is productive in New Orleans in 2018, it will be fair to say the Bears made an error by not using the second-round tender to secure him. You also have to consider what his projected role in the offense would be. Allen Robinson is the clear No. 1 and he’s also recovering from a knee injury but one that is not quite as involved (one ligament damaged as opposed to two). Taylor Gabriel has been paid big money and the Bears insist they will have plenty of work for three tight ends. Figure they also keep a fullback — the Chiefs have used one in their offense — and you have a lot of skill-position players in the mix.”
It appears that they believe that Meredith was simply not a lock to make the roster. That could either be because of the knee injury or because he only had one productive season and they weren’t convinced he could stain that production. One or both seems to me to be most likely.
Having said that there are other potential reasons.
The Bears are already committing a lot of cap to the receivers. Without Meredith, the Bears are committing the fourth most cap dollars to wide receiver league-wide. Some teams don’t believe in sinking an excessive amount of cap into one position regardless of the overall cap situation. That could be a factor.
I was listening to Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly on a podcast and he brought up the possibility that the Bears made this decision because they are depending upon former first round pick Kevin White to be the second wide receiver (with Robinson as #1 and Gabriel as the slot receiver). Physically Meredith and White are similar.
I would find that last thought to be disturbing for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that White apparently didn’t look very good even before the injury last year. The thought that Pace would be so stubborn about protecting his former first round pick as to actually deceive himself into thinking the Bears could depend upon him this year is not a very happy one for the future of the franchise under the GM.
There’s a lot about this I don’t like. We’ll know if the Bears made the correct evaluation when we see what Meredith does for the Saints this year.