The Chicago Bears have a boatload of potential free agents to re-sign (or not) from last year’s roster, and the most expensive of the lot could be Henry Melton. The 26-year-old defensive tackle is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance just as his rookie contract expires.
As reported by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter), the Bears appear to be willing to sink huge amounts of cash into keeping Melton on the roster. Biggs says that, unless a long-term contract is reached, the Bears are expected to put the franchise tag on the youngster…a move that’s expected to cost in the neighborhood of $8 million next season.
The Bears aren’t long on cap room in the best of scenarios, so committing that kind of money to one of their many skilled defensive linemen isn’t a trivial decision. Nevertheless, Chicago can ill afford to make any other move where Melton is concerned.
At age 26, Melton is the most valuable long-term prospect on one of the NFL’s best defenses. He has 13 sacks over his last two seasons, a level of proven pass-rushing ability that few DTs of any age can match.
Locking up Melton for the long term will give the Chicago line a player to build around down the road. If the two sides can’t agree on that kind of contract in the compressed space before March 4 (the franchise-tag deadline), then franchising him is the only reasonable move for Bears general manager Phil Emery.
The alternative is to let Melton hit the open market as a free agent, and with the Bears’ current cap constraints, they won’t have a prayer of signing him. Henry Melton is going to be a huge addition to somebody’s defense this offseason, and the Bears can make sure it’s their defense and no one else’s.
It’s also worth noting that, in addition to his productivity, Melton is famously one of the NFL’s most athletic interior linemen. The 6’3”, 280-pounder also played fullback at Texas, and that level of mobility just can’t be replaced in free agency or the draft.
The Bears have had one of the NFL’s top defenses over the past decade. If they want to keep that going for another ten years, they need Henry Melton on the defensive line.