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Bears Sat Sep 17 2011

Meriweather Looks Like Low-Risk Gamble for Bears

Thumbnail image for bears.gifNear the end of training camp, the Bears picked up safety Brandon Meriweather, waived by New England after Bill Belichick decided the recent Pro Bowler no longer fit with the Patriots' defensive plans.

Getting released isn't the kiss of death for a player, but when a three-time Super Bowl-winning coach has no use for you, it raises more than a few eyebrows.

As such, Bears fans are still sorting out the pros and cons of Meriweather's addition as he prepares to start for Chris Harris on Sunday at New Orleans.

The criticism of Meriweather is akin to similar criticism lobbed at the off-season signing of former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams. Like Williams, big things are expected of Meriweather, but some Chicago sports writers and Bears fans are skeptical. If Belichick thinks he's no good, maybe it's true.

One game is a little too early to decide about Meriweather's performance here, especially after he missed training camp. This means that Meriweather will have to rely on the daily practices to build a rapport with his new teammates and learn the intricacies of a new defense.

The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs reports that if Meriweather had remained with the Patriots, they would have paid him $1.65 million. That's not a bad salary for a starting safety.

So how are the Bears rewarding him? Well, the Bears have signed Meriweather to a one-year, $3.25-million contract (which includes a $1 million signing bonus and a $2.25 million base salary).

This deal makes Meriweather the highest-paid Bears safety. Again, this is not a bad deal for a two-time Pro Bowl safety. According to ESPN Chicago's Michael Wright, Meriweather's salary is the market price for a starting safety.

In essence, Meriweather has received a starter's contract, even though he backed up Major Wright and Chris Harris in last week's season opener. It's safe to assume that, if the Bears are willing to shell out this kind of money for a player whose production levels have declined in the past couple of seasons, then they must see something in him.

GM Jerry Angelo quickly shot down any notion that the Bears are unhappy with their current safeties.

"To just think he's gonna come in and unseat somebody, I don't know that," he said. "That wasn't my intention when we went out and signed him. My intention was just to get another quality player in the mix. We like our safeties. I understand the perception, but what I'm telling you is the reality of why we made this decision. It was just [about] getting another safety because when you start out into the season, and you have an injury at that position, that's a tough one because there's a learning curve with that; much more so than other positions. So you want to have somebody in-house that you not only know can play, but that you can trust to do the things from a quarterback standpoint [in directing the secondary].

That's why we did what we did. We do the best we can to create as good of insurance as we possibly can. The big picture is you want to have as much insurance as you can at the critical positions. Both the center and the safety positions to me are critical positions on your team."

Well, all right then. So, should Bears fans be concerned about Meriweather's credentials if Belichick thought that cutting him was the wisest decision?

ESPN Chicago's Melissa Isaacson made a list of pros and cons regarding the signing of Meriweather to the Bears.

The pros are that he's never missed a game in his four seasons, tying for fourth among NFL safeties with 12 picks in the past three years.

So far, the biggest con in Meriweather's career happened last season during a head-on-head collision with the Ravens' Todd Heap. Aside from this being a dangerous hit, it resulted in a $50,000 fine, but no suspension. If this were to happen again, then not only would Meriweather be fined, he'd also face suspension.

Isaacson also mentioned that since Meriweather showed up to Patriots camp in less-than-stellar physical shape and due to his erratic play, Bill Belichick had enough ammunition with which to cut Meriweather from the team.

Isaacson's commentary echoes what Boston sports writers have had to say about Meriweather.

While the Boston Globe's Chad Finn is quick to point out Meriweather's good points: he's a fast and fearless former first round draft pick and was selected to the Pro Bowl twice (2009 and 2010), he also takes extreme risks and hasn't corrected his flaws.

Finn sees Meriweather as a player who has all the requisite tools, but can't make the big plays:

No, Meriweather was not a play maker, as so many of the stories about his departure suggested; he had 12 interceptions in four seasons, forced five fumbles, and never had more than 83 tackles in a season. He could deliver a big hit -- the head-shot on the Ravens' Todd Heap last year is the one that will be remembered long after he's an ex-Bear, ex-Raider, ex-Blue Bomber, or wherever else his journey takes him -- but his often ill-advised attempts at the big play often came at the expense of what he was supposed to be doing.

Finn also pointed out a critical mistake that Meriweather made in a game from four years ago. During the Giants' final drive in Super Bowl XLII, Meriweather botched the coverage on a third-and-11 that resulted in a 12-yard gain for Steve Smith.

Finn believes that Meriweather's inconsistent play and flaws will show up again when he plays for the Bears.

Understandably, Finn's critique might cause a Bears fan to prematurely freak out.

Finn's colleague and ESPN Boston writer Chris Forsberg is a little more diplomatic when it comes to his critique of Meriweather's numbers. Forsberg points that his numbers weren't awful (he finished with 48 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 6 passes defended), but if 0 is the league-average player (one that neither helps nor hurts the team), Meriweather graded out at -10.1 during the regular season, tied for 79th among the 95 safeties that played, at least, 25 percent of their team's snaps last season.

Again, not so great news by another Boston sports beat writer. Either there is outright disdain for or careful caution with regard to Meriweather as a player.

Soon enough, Chicago media and Bears fans will know whether Meriweather is the bust the Boston media and fans have made him out to be.

So what should Bears fans expect from Meriweather? They should expect him to acclimate to the Bears defensive style and correct his past flaws. It's possible that Meriweather could turn out to be a bust, but the Bears only gave him a one-year deal. If he doesn't quite work out as the Bears hope, then they don't have to renew his contract.

So while listening to and reading about Meriweather might unnerve some Bears fans, it's best to keep an open mind. He could be a good gamble.

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Nico Cooper / December 5, 2011 4:32 AM

Brandon Meriweather might be Bears' best gamble. Meriweather came into camp in less-than-great shape and his propensity to gamble on defense reportedly gave Belichick enough reason to say goodbye. He is also gambling that Meriweather's best years are already behind him. I do like Meriweather and I even shared my opinion on sports betting blog that he will fit in just fine, will do a good job and will make the team better.

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