This year, literally starting on January 1st, Bears General Manager Ryan Pace proved again why he is one of the most meticulous and incisive leaders of any organization in the National Football League.
The amount of articles, podcasts, national media attention, video clips and analyst interviews supporting the positive ambiance of the Chicago Bears is staggering considering this has been a losing team.
With every decision Pace made, the interest grew. Even the most casual fan couldn’t help but find themselves excited at every “BREAKING” alert that featured their beloved Bears hashtag. Every addition – and there were a lot of them – felt like another haymaker to the negative narrative that once served as the only description of this team.
Then, in the middle of the hum that was the buzz of excitement, one of those haymakers landed with on the chin of the fanbase of Chicago. Wide receiver Cameron Meredith, a Cook County native and Illinois State product would not have his offer sheet matched.
Immediately, Bears’ twittersphere went into a frenzy. Even the most prominent of Bears writers, radio hosts and media were vocal about being baffled by the move. Fans were even worse. People were giving out criticism and profanities towards Pace like Red Bull brand ambassadors.
Do I agree with the move? Honestly, I can’t say just yet.
What I am willing to say, is if Meredith is healthy and will be ready for training camp, then I won’t understand this move. Unless head coach Matt Nagy stated that he didn’t want or need Meredith directly, the contract was easy to digest and came with low risk with a potentially high reward. If Meredith is going to start next season on the PUP list, which likely means he’s going to miss a large part of the season, then I understand the thinking.
Pace, with a first-year head coach, wants to get as many available, impact players that can be inundated with the culture, playbook, chemistry and timing with quarterback Mitch Trubisky as possible. Meredith, if he misses significant time, gets a checkmark in only two of those four categories.
So to answer the question “now what”, that also is relentlessly reproducing itself on twitter timelines, the Bears will play.
It’s that simple.
What’s next is to do what’s best. Football decisions are less emotional than people are willing to admit, we’d love to paint the picture that every team loves every guy the way that the Ravens loved Ray Lewis or the Cardinals love Larry Fitzgerald but that’s just not factual. In order to get a look at what’s ahead for the Bears, you have to take a look back at what Nagy has done and comes from.
The first thing you have to remember is that running back Tarik Cohen is going to be on the field a lot more in the slot and maybe even outside as a receiver. The gadget, or joker back that Cohen was in the previous offense showed this new regime quite a bit of versatility to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically.
A quick (current) personnel matchup between both the Chiefs and the Eagles shows that the Bears can win with a little less than you may have realized. These two offenses are the closest example one would get to foresee what Nagy plans to do in Chicago.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl with Alshon Jeffery who was on a one-year, $9.5 million deal after not being signed to a long-term deal by anyone else when the Bears released him. Nelson Agholor was widely considered a bust after being drafted in the first round and it took until last season (Year 3) to show valuable production.
Torrey Smith was also signed to a one-year contract and gave the Eagles 430 yards. Mack Hollins, Trubisky’s old teammate was a draft pick that showed flashes and gave the team another 226 yards. Zach Ertz is the top dog of that offense as he’s been the most consistent and was the leading receiver for the team and new Bears tight end Trey Burton produced mainly in the red-zone with five touchdowns. They also had a stable of running backs and cycled mainly through Legarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi.
Not the most attractive list of offensive weapons on paper if ask me.
The Chiefs weren’t far from that either. Outside of tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill having huge 1,000 yard seasons, Nagy’s former offense got a good amount of receiving yards from their running back Kareem Hunt. Albert Wilson with their other complementary receivers De’Anthony Thomas and Demarcus Robinson don’t have eye-popping names either.
If it hadn’t been for the Bears offseason building anticipation for Wilson, most people wouldn’t know three of the six names listed above.
The Bears currently have Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Burton and Cohen as very reliable pass-catching options. This offense won’t look exactly like it looked in Kansas City last year because it may even be better.
The borrowed concepts from Oregon due to offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich may catch the entire league by surprise. The Bears have the luxury of being the cross between both teams discussed above.
They have the big, true X, outside receiver in Robinson like the Eagles have in Jeffery. They have the shifty, speed-demon, down-field threat in Gabriel and a pass-catching running back in Cohen, who may be just as dangerous in space as he is. The power back Jordan Howard will benefit even more this season for two reasons: a) he’s running from the shotgun formation more and b) he won’t be running into eight-man boxes for two-thirds of his rushing attempts.
The common theme here is that the tight end position is a premium one for these offenses. Both coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree, what’s interesting is Reid went out and got Sammy Watkins, a big, true X, outside wide receiver.
They all match.
Don’t overthink any one player in this offense. What matters the absolute most is Trubisky. Great quarterbacks seasoned in great schemes make receivers look good. Even with what the Bears had, former wide receiver Kendall Wright had his best season in five years.
These Chicago Bears will be fine.
I don’t believe they’ve “taken a full-step back” more than they’ve created a hole on offense to fill. One thing I’ve hoped to point out is how both offenses did a lot with seemingly less. If Trubisky becomes who I think he’s going to become this season, the names of the receivers around him will be great because he is, not the other way around.
Losing Meredith feels like a blow, but it doesn’t have to be.
The Bears still have the draft to come and the UDFA to follow, you know, where they found Meredith in the first place. Needing almost 30 players to complete this 90-man roster, you can bet Pace, Nagy, Helfrich and the rest of the crew will take a shotgun approach and add more horses to the stable.
While you would like to see them keep their homegrown talent, Meredith isn’t irreplaceable with all due respect. This may prove to be a mistake, but if the Bears are winning and Trubisky is hanging 250+ yards and two touchdowns a game, trust me, Meredith being successful in New Orleans will be the furthest thing from my mind.
Follow me on Twitter for the rest of my thoughts @TidwellTalks. Bear Down.