Monday is the first day that NFL teams can place the franchise tag on players which they want to keep but cannot come to an early contract agreement with. For the Bears, that player could very well be UFA Henry Melton.
Using the tag does not prevent the Bears from eventually reaching a long-term extension with Melton, but it does guarantee that: a) they retain control of their DT; and, b) Henry will receive the average of the top five salaries at the DT position, which would equal $8.3M in 2013.
That would be a huge raise for the Bears’ three-technique, but the alternative would be to let Melton enter the market and risk losing a young player on an aging defense.
While the offense needs major upgrades along the line and at TE, keeping Melton would seem to be key since new Bears’ DC Mel Tucker has said they will continue playing a 4-3, Cover-2 scheme. A three-technique like Melton is critical in such a defense, as newly elected Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp has proven.
Look, when the Bears last sniffed the Super Bowl, they had a DT in Tommie Harris who was playing at the top of his game. So they definitely need Melton to return.
Having said that, if they tag Melton, they will be devoting about one-third of their salary cap to four defensive players (Peppers, Tillman, Briggs and Melton). But Melton made the Pro Bowl last season and is considered one of the top players at his position, especially by Melton himself.
Melton has 13 sacks over the past two seasons and recorded a team-high 24 QB pressures, along with five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Last year, Phil Emery used the franchise tag on Matt Forte, who they eventually signed to an extension. This year, he may have to do the same for Melton.
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