Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace said on Tuesday that input from Chicago’s team physicians and training staff weighed heavily in the organization’s decision to decline to match the offer sheet that wide receiver Cameron Meredith received from the New Orleans Saints.
Speaking publicly for the first time since Meredith left the Bears, Pace hinted that the wide receiver’s serious knee injury, suffered last preseason, was the overriding factor in Chicago’s letting him go.
Meredith, 25, led the Bears with 66 receptions, 888 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2016. He missed the entire 2017 season after he tore knee ligaments in Chicago’s third preseason game at Tennessee last summer.
“Without getting into specifics, obviously he was coming off an injury,” Pace told reporters at his annual pre-draft news conference. “We lean on our training staff and our docs. Hey, I got a lot of respect for Cam and a lot of respect for the organization he went to. We wish him luck.”
The Saints — Pace’s former team — felt comfortable enough with Meredith’s medical information to offer him a two-year deal that included $5.350 million. The Bears, however, tendered Meredith at the lowest possible level ($1.9 million), and therefore received no compensation in return when he joined New Orleans.
“Every organization’s different,” Pace said. “Every organization comes to different assessments [when it comes to the medicals].”
The Bears attempted to offset Meredith’s loss by aggressively targeting wide receivers Allen Robinson — coming off a torn ACL — and Taylor Gabriel in free agency. The Bears also added pass-catching tight end Trey Burton, who will play a much larger role in Chicago’s offense than he did in Philadelphia.
But the great unknown on the Bears’ wide receiver depth chart is Kevin White, the seventh overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft.
New Bears coach Matt Nagy praised White during last week’s voluntary veteran minicamp, but Pace declined to say whether the team plans to pick up White’s fifth-year option. White’s nearly $2.7 million base salary for 2018 is fully guaranteed, but exercising his fifth-year option would be a major upset.
White has played in only five regular-season games since the Bears drafted him.
The former West Virginia star was placed on injured reserve after last year’s regular-season opener with a fractured shoulder blade. White missed his entire rookie year because of a stress fracture in his left shin that required surgery to stabilize. In 2016, White had a fractured fibula develop in the same leg that prematurely ended his year after Week 4.
“We’re not at that deadline yet,” Pace said. “I know it’s approaching. Right now it’s all focused on the draft. Then once the draft’s over, we’ll meet with him and his agent and make that decision.”
The Bears are also expected to take a hard look at wide receivers in the upcoming draft. They are unlikely to use the eighth overall choice on a receiver but could address the position in the second round (No. 39) and fourth round (Nos. 105, 115).
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears taking Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller in the second round in his latest mock.
“Matt [Nagy] has looked at almost every receiver in the draft,” Pace said. “So he has a good feel for, ‘Hey, here’s how this guy fits,’ and hearing that from the head coach, from the playcaller is valuable for me.”