Jairus Byrd. Brandon Browner. CJ Spiller. James Laurinaitis. Coby Fleener. Those are just a few names of former talented veteran players that the New Orleans Saints have signed in NFL Free Agency in recent years; who turned out to be "busts" — a term used to describe a highly-regarded player who doesn't meet the expectations or level of performance that they were paid millions of dollars for.
In the long run, the Saints organization essentially lost millions of dollars when they invested in each one of those players; all of whom eventually were either released or outright cut from the team's roster.
And since the Saints have enjoyed a lot of recent overall success during the past two seasons (back-to-back NFC South Division Championships) after finishing with three straight (7-9) losing seasons (2014 to 2016), it's been pretty easy for most Who Dats to forget about those names. Which is exactly why it's hoped that 5th year veteran wide receiver Cam Meredith isn't the next name to land on that not-so-famous list.
As most supporters of the Black and Gold are well aware: Meredith — who the team signed as a restricted free agent from the Chicago Bears during 2018 NFL Free Agency last off-season — was active for the first few weeks of the 2018 Regular Season last year, until the coaching staff decided to place him on Injured Reserve after it was determined that his knee hadn't fully healed as it previously had been anticipated.
As it had been first reported first by NOLA.com / The Times Picayune beat writer Josh Katzenstein: Meredith experienced swelling in his left knee throughout those first 6 games of the 2018 season, and the team ultimately decided to place him on injured reserve because he underwent arthroscopic surgery to correct the issue.
Meredith recorded just 9 receptions for 114 yards and 1 TD reception for the year in 2018; most of which came during their Week #6 victory over the Washington Redskins at the Superdome, where he had 5 catches for 71 yards.
To his credit: in his limited amount of action, Meredith still managed to catch 90% of the passes that were thrown in his direction; and beginning right now and throughout the next several weeks leading up to Training Camp in late July, the coaching staff will be monitoring Meredith very closely, to see if he is in fact 100% fully healed and ready to become an impact player at the slot WR position.
Actually, it had previously been rumored that the team was considering releasing Meredith heading into this current 2019 Off-Season; until it was announced that he and the organization had worked out an agreement on a pay cut to keep him with the Black and Gold and allow him the chance to prove that he is NOT a Free Agent "bust". The Saints reduced Meredith's total in salary and potential bonuses from $5.05 million to $2.95 million, guaranteeing him a total of $1.5 million.
Saints fans initially were excited after the team signed Meredith around this time last year; 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 high-powered offensive attack. 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 then targeted Meredith in Free Agency last Off-Season specifically because when 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.
But there has been a huge amount of skepticism from fans simply because of all the uncertainty that's been hovering over Meredith ever since they signed him; and it's more than fair or reasonable to wonder if New Orleans will ever receive a favorable return on their financial investment.
From the perspective of several well-known observers and analysts , taking the "gamble" that Meredith would be ready for the start of the season last year was seen by some as a bad decision by the Saints organization, especially since they've notably been "burned" before in Free Agency in recent years with those players mentioned at the beginning of the article.
In fact, Bears GM Ryan Pace told Dan Pompei of the Athletic a few months ago that Meredith was allowed to walk last off-season simply because the Bears believed that their own analysis of Meredith's injury — which was that Meredith WOULDN'T be ready in time for the 2018 Season Opener last September — 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, Meredith did end up playing sporadically until he was officially "shut down" on November 8th; following the team's Week #8 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at the Superdome
As for Saints head coach Sean Payton, he's still keeping an open mind and a positive attitude about Meredith's future with the franchise going forward; and he and the organization expect nothing less than a complete and full recovery from him as they now head into their opening series of OTA's (organized team activities, which are essentially off-season workouts but without pads) in the next few weeks.
"I still consider Cam young”, Payton told reporters about the 26-year old Meredith at the NFL Owner's Meetings last month in Arizona. "He is someone I think will be healthy.”
Undoubtedly. Meredith's health and whether or not he can regain the previous form that made him one of the NFL's most underrated and up-and-coming players League-wide at the WR position; will be monitored quite closely by team officials and the coaching staff.
And that's not to mention, the many loyally-devoted Who Dat fans that likely will remain skeptical until they actually SEE Meredith make it happen with their very own eyes. Meredith has been working out very hard and training religiously since the Off-Season first began, and in these next several months ahead, we'll all see if his efforts (and the Saints' belief and faith in his ability to pull it off), will come to fruition or not.
The New Orleans Saints have made a financial investment in Cam Meredith — but time will ultimately determine if it was really a 'sound' one to make....