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2018 NFL Free Agency

(BLACK AND) GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY? Wide Receiver Cam Meredith Would Give Up Playing “At Home” for a Super Bowl Shot with the Saints

Westchester, Illinois. In this Midwestern suburb just 15 miles west of Chicago and approximately a 20-minute drive from Soldier Field, current Chicago Bears free agent wide receiver Cam Meredith spent his childhood growing up as a fan of the team and even attended a few of their training camps during the summer as a kid — although he never actually made it to Soldier Field for an NFL game until he finally played in one.

Now over 20-plus years later, Meredith is living his NFL dream as one of the top WR's on his hometown team's roster; although that dream might have to be with a different team in 2018 if he hopes to fulfill another dream that every NFL player has:

Winning a Super Bowl.

Yesterday, the 25-year old agreed to sign an offer-sheet with New Orleans, according to multiple reports. Meredith, who tore his ACL in a preseason game and missed the 2017 season, will be paid a guaranteed $5.4 million on the deal, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, and the contract could be worth nearly $10 million when all is said and done.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Prior to missing all of last season, Meredith had 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns the year before in 2016, and he is viewed as one of the team’s best receivers.

Meredith's "big break" came when starting Bears WR Kevin White was lost for the remainder of the 2016 season with a broken fibula back in Week #4 of that season, and was able to establish himself as a legitimate threat in White's absence.

And that was during a season where Bears quarterbacks threw the ninth fewest touchdowns (19), fourth most interceptions (19) and posted the eighth lowest passer rating (81.8), with then-Bears back-up QB's Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley throwing him passes.

Yesterday, the Bears tendered Meredith at the draft-pick-compensation level of $1.907 million (the lowest level), which gives them the opportunity to match the Saints’ offer and retain Meredith. But, since Meredith entered the league as an undrafted free agent, the Bears get no compensation if he leaves.

Chicago does have enough salary cap space to ensure that they keep him. But as of this very moment, it's unclear if they will choose to do so. The Bears have until next Wednesday to decide.

Meredith is quite familiar with Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson, who was a member of the Bears coaching staff during his 2016 "break out" season and is seen as the person largely responsible for Meredith's NFL success up to this point.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

But if he leaves, it will also mean the end of playing for the team that has been a part of his life since he was barely even old enough to understand what a football is.

Football has always been a part of Meredith's greatest passions, and it's one of the reasons why he chose to pursue a career at first as a quarterback — and began an amazing journey that could see its next chapter based in NOLA instead of the Windy City.

In high school, Meredith starred at quarterback for St. Joseph, a school famously known more for its basketball legends (Isiah Thomas, Evan Turner) than its gridiron greats. But unfortunately, Meredith wasn't highly recruited, thanks in part to the fact that the well-known local Catholic high school football program had lost a whopping 45 straight games in a row, prior to his arrival.

Eventually, Meredith decided to play as close to home as possible; and opted to play for Illinois State University, the one school that showed persistent interest. However, Meredith's timing couldn't have been any worse, since he arrived when former Redbirds star Matt Brown was piling up stats that made him the school's all-time leading quarterback.

Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

As a result: Meredith only played quarterback during team practices for three years (2010 thru 2012) while sitting behind Brown, and was placed on the scout team  — which is where the "turning point" of his entire life would eventually unfold.

The coaching staff decided to put Meredith at the wide receiver position as a redshirt junior, and initially it didn't work out so well; as the youngster dropped a handful of passes while hearing the laughs and snide comments of his teammates.

Even worse: the odds of a player in an FCS program making it to the NFL after a position "switch" are astronomical, and it notably took a while for Meredith's pass-catching career to take off.

But boy, when it did "take off", it did so in rather impressive fashion.

As a junior in 2013, he posted moderate numbers (21 catches, 370 yards and 5 touchdowns. But as a senior during the 2014 season, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Meredith caught 66 passes for 1,061 yards and 9 touchdowns; and began to garner the attention of NFL scouts.

Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

However, although pro scouts took notice, it still was not enough to earn himself an invitation to the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Meaning that once again, Meredith would have to prove himself; this time at the 2015 Northwestern Pro Day, where he turned enough heads on that particular day to get several free-agent offers, including one from the Bears.

As expected, Meredith went undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft and then after mulling over offers from a few other teams, quickly signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent.

And from that point on, we now know the rest of his story — a story that presumably still has another few chapters to be written yet, and possibly composed within the confines of a new place that he will call "home" should Bears general manager Ryan Pace decide not to match Saints general manager Mickey Loomis's offer.

Should the Bears decide not to match the Saints offer for Meredith, New Orleans will be getting a player capable of filling the slot WR role that the team so desperately needs, and one the Saints still may choose to address later this month in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

Meredith is a big-bodied athlete who can run solid routes, find open spaces against any NFL defensive scheme's coverage packages, and can go up and get the football decisively against smaller DB's, especially in "jump ball" situations.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

He's also very adept at selling the "double move", which is why Pro Football Focus listed Meredith as the best route-runner on the double-move in 2016 as well, catching all five of his targets on routes with double-moves for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

Assuming that he will be fully healed in time for the 2018 NFL season (and there's no reason to suspect otherwise, or else it's VERY unlikely that the Saints would have extended him the contract offer), Meredith would be another solid addition in 2018 NFL Free Agency by New Orleans as the team looks to further solidify one last good shot at winning a Super Bowl before Drew Brees retires.

If Cam Meredith is allowed to leave home by the team that he grew up loving as a kid, it might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise — and maybe even a (Black and) golden opportunity to win a Super Bowl in New Orleans with the Saints, as well.......

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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