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Editorial / Opinion

Yes It’s Very Early Still, But Saints Free Agent “Gamble” on WR Cam Meredith Looks Like It Might Pay Off Big-Time

Although the New Orleans Saints as of this morning are still 106 more days away from their 2018 season-opening kickoff vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9th, the early reports so far on the health status of recently-signed free agent and former Chicago Bears WR Cam Meredith are to say the very least, extremely encouraging.

In case you may have missed it somehow: after the completion of their first week of OTA's at the team's Metairie practice facility in suburban New Orleans, Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters that the 25-year old Meredith — who the team signed after the Bears declined to match the offer sheet worth a reported $9.6 million over two years ($5.4 million guaranteed) — appeared to be way ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus that he hurt in a Pre-Season game with Chicago prior to the start of last season.

"He's ahead of schedule," Payton said. "It's encouraging." 

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, The New Orleans Advocate

"With Oak (defensive end Alex Okafor), he's got a little bit (left) with his rehab; we feel really good with where he's going and his schedule," Payton said. "The same with Cam."

Payton then added that the team has a clear vision for Meredith, and what they see is a specific role for the 6-foot-3, 210 pound Westchester, Illinois native.

New Orleans Advocate writer Nick Underhill observed that Meredith didn't participate in team drills, but did catch passes (as seen in this video that you can watch by clicking HERE) along with the rest of the WR group; which in and of itself is a very good sign that can be taken away from Payton's early prognosis.

Meredith told reporters after the final practice that he's thrilled with being reunited with Saints wide receiver coach Curtis "CJ" Johnson, who was his position coach in Chicago during his "break-out" 2016 season with the Bears; when he caught 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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 Meredith was able to establish himself as a legitimate threat in White's absence.

And that was during a 2016 regular 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.

Without a doubt, that was also in part to the guidance that he got from the no-nonsense and hard work philosophy of Johnson.

"It's kind of magical how it happened", Meredith said. 

"It was my first year being really able to start, and he (Johnson) really brought out a lot in my game; so now to have that opportunity again and to be able to soak up more knowledge from him — and seeing what he's done with the other guys in our room already — seeing things like that and being able to do that again, I'm very excited".

Saints fans should be excited as well; given the likelihood of what a healthy and near fully-recovered Meredith would mean to the team's offensive attack moving forward into the upcoming 2018 regular season.

Meredith has the size to be the PERFECT complementary receiving threat to #1 WR Michael Thomas in New Orleans’ offense. Additionally, it goes without saying that he'll benefit from a huge upgrade at the QB position and catching passes from Drew Brees as opposed to 2nd year Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky.

But the "gamble" that the Saints took by making an offer to an injured player whom the Bears felt was too much of a risk to re-sign to a new contract, looks like it could pay off in a big way.

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch

How so? 

Simply because with the uncertainty that had been hovering over Meredith's health status like a dark cloud since the signing became official, an "all clear" with regard to his availability to start the regular season will be a welcome sigh of relief for the both the team and fans, as well as a positive outlook for a favorable return on the Saints' financial investment.

If you will for a moment:

Think about a Saints offense that already has Brees, Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara; and now add a healthy Meredith along with fellow newcomer WR Tre’Quan Smith the team's 3rd-round pick out of UCF who has the similar size, length and play-making capability of a Thomas or Meredith but who can also be a designated "deep ball threat" to the equation.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, The New Orleans Advocate

You don't need a degree in the laws of Physics, to figure out what kind of potentially EXPLOSIVE offense that the Saints are looking at putting out on the field to open the 2018 season; and that's even with Mark Ingram expected to miss the first 4 games because of a suspension for PED's.

When you take into consideration that Brees' wide receiver depth last season consisted of Ted Ginn, Jr. and Brandon Coleman, putting a healthy Meredith and Tre'Quan into the mix potentially should yield huge dividends.

For the Saints, taking a "gamble" that Meredith would be ready for the start of the season was seen by some observers as a bad decision, especially since they've notably been "burned" before in Free Agency in recent years with players such as Jairus Byrd, Brandon Browner, C.J. Spiller and Coby Fleener.

In fact, Bears GM Ryan Pace recently told Dan Pompei of the Athletic that Meredith was allowed to walk simply because the Bears believed that their own analysis of Meredith's injury and that Meredith WOULDN'T be ready in time for the September opener in a few months from now — factored heavily into their decision.

Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

Via Pompei's interview:

“Based on what we did in the offseason and what we could do in the draft, it didn’t make sense for us to match the offer,” Pace told me. “The receiver position is one you can overhaul pretty quickly, and we tried to do that. Cam was a good player and a big hit for us, and I hope he does really well, honestly.”

Of course, it should be pointed out that at the time the former Saints executive assistant allowed Meredith to leave the Windy City, that he and the Bears had taken a huge gamble of their own by giving former Jaguars WR Allen Robinson a 3-year, $42 million contract, with $18 million fully guaranteed. 

Robinson's own 2017 season came to an abrupt end after he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1, and Jacksonville allowed Robinson to hit free agency, opting not to tag the 61st overall pick of the 2014 draft.

So, there was certainly was some risk on Pace and Chicago's part (and perhaps hypocrisy among those who openly criticized the Saints for giving Meredith the offer sheet) in allowing him to leave and essentially "replacing" him with a player who was basically the same age and coming off a similar injury.

The Bears later would go on to add highly-regarded University of Memphis star WR Anthony Miller as well in the 2nd Round of the recently-completed 2018 NFL Draft.

So you can believe that no one is crying for Pace or Chicago.

Nevertheless, this week's events at OTA's for the Saints and for Meredith, is hopefully indeed a very good sign of things to come in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.

(Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Yes, today is only May 26th and it's very early still; and literally anything can happen between now and then to drastically change or alter the current outlook.

But as of this moment?

The Saints "gamble" on Cam Meredith is looking like it will pay off big time during the 2018 regular season.....

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; 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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