There haven't been many reasons to be critical of the New Orleans Saints this season, considering that they're currently regarded as the NFL's "hottest" team, have won 7 straight games in a row, and appear well on their way to becoming a force to be reckoned with in the NFL Playoffs a few months from now.
Nevertheless, with the breaking news that the team was placing 4th year veteran Cam Meredith — who the team signed as a restricted free agent from the Chicago Bears this past off-season — on Injured Reserve after it was determined that his knee hasn't fully healed as it previously had been anticipated, it's tempting to say that perhaps in this instance the organization willingly "took a gamble and lost".
As reported first by NOLA.com / The Times Picayune beat writer Josh Katzenstein: Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters a short while ago that Meredith has experienced swelling in his left knee throughout this season, and the team is placing him on injured reserve because Meredith is set to undergo arthroscopic surgery within the next few days to correct the issue.
Given those circumstances, it's evident now WHY the team chose to pursue and eventually sign free agent WR Dez Bryant, whom the team brought into the fold yesterday.
But the loss of Meredith is a huge disappointment, and even if he comes back to have a great few years with the Saints organization, the narrative surrounding his status now will be viewed as another free agent "gamble" that the team has taken and lost in recent years.
Saints fans initially were excited after the team signed Meredith; which only happened because the Bears declined to match the offer sheet given to him by New Orleans worth a reported $9.6 million over two years ($5.4 million guaranteed).
And they were even more excited by the idea of what having a healthy and near fully-recovered Meredith would mean to the team's offensive attack as they moved forward into what is now the current 2018 regular season. Meredith had a "break out" season with the Bears back in 2016, when he caught 66 passes for 888 yards and 4 TD's, and was viewed as one of the top young receivers anywhere throughout the League.
Nevertheless, one can only assume that Saints front office brass was mainly inspired to do so since Meredith had appeared to be ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus that he originally hurt in a Pre-Season game with Chicago, prior to the start of last season in August of 2017.
The Saints targeted Meredith in Free Agency specifically because when he's healthy, the Berwyn, Illinois native has the size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) to be the PERFECT complementary receiving threat to #1 WR Michael Thomas in New Orleans’ offense.
And after the team's OTA's in the early Summer months, Payton told reporters that the 26-year old Meredith appeared to be healing up nicely and would likely be ready in time for the 2018 Season opener.
"He's ahead of schedule," Payton said. "It's encouraging."
Now just a few months removed from that day, it's quite obvious that the encouragement Payton was feeling, eventually became rather short-lived. Meredith’s season has come to an end after just nine catches, 114 yards and one touchdown.
And 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, now appears to have come back to bite them on the proverbial ass.
How so, you ask?
Simply because with the uncertainty that had been hovering over Meredith's health status like a dark cloud since the signing became official, there was always some doubt as to whether or not New Orleans would receive a favorable return on their financial investment.
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 2018 Season Opener several weeks back — factored heavily into their decision.
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.
Less than seven months after refusing to match the Saints' offer for Meredith, Pace has now been vindicated.
Meanwhile the question must be asked: why did the Saints medical staff have such a DIFFERENT prognosis with regard to Meredith's recovery process, than Pace and Chicago had?
For a team still dealing with the lingering questions and criticism from last year's handling of the Delvin Breaux injury, one can't help but wonder what's going on behind the scenes when it comes to the organization's handling and treatment of player injuries.
No one is suggesting that the Saints have a bunch of "quacks" (so-called medical professionals or doctors with little or no actual skills) working for them, but certainly it has to be a genuine concern that it KEEPS happening.
As for Payton, he's keeping an open mind and a positive attitude about Meredith's future with the franchise going forward; and he said the Saints expect a complete and full recovery from Meredith.
“It’s not bad news,” Payton said. "In other words, he’s going to have a full recovery."
"It’s a scope that he’s having some cleanup work done, but he kept having this swelling, week in, week out. And he really was pushing through it, and his snap count wasn’t high, but just his time on it. Next few days we’ll have that done."
While that's good to hear, you'll have to forgive some Saints fans who have seen this sort of thing happen TOO MANY times throughout the team's well-documented history, for remaining a bit skeptic.
The Saints haven't lost much this year so far — but their "gamble" on Cam Meredith hasn't paid off....