Devin Hester and Brian Urlacher are not financial decisions for Phil Emery and the Chicago Bears. Neither breaks the economic bank because neither poses a make-or-break impact on the 2013 season. Hester could certainly be a productive kick return and Urlacher would stabilize the middle of the defense but if Marc Trestman is relying on either to return to an All-Pro level for a postseason trip he is sorely misguided in his roster analysis.
Henry Melton is an emerging star at defensive tackle and the Bears can address his future with the organization with one of three approaches:
- Set Melton free and allow him to sign a lucrative contract with another organization. (I would imagine the Cowboys would try to find room for Melton immediately.)
- Sign Melton to an extension that should - based on Melton's production - exceed the 7 year, $50.5 million contract inked by Tommy Kelly of the Oakland Raiders in 2008. Kelly's contract surprised many around the league and was met by many fans with a collective, "Who?" Melton's will surprise nobody.
- Tag Melton. According to Ian "I'm Not" Rapoport of NFL.com the franchise tag number for a defensive tackle in 2013 is tentatively set at $8.306 million.
While Henry Melton will assuredly not want to be franchised, franchising him is exactly what the Bears should do. (Side note: I don't understand why the NFLPA allowed the franchise tag to stay in place only to have every single player complain once it is applied. What's the point of having labor negotiators for a worthless union? We had a punter last year complain about the tag!)
Melton is a terrific player. His thirteen sacks over the last two seasons show the promise of a player capable of anchoring a defensive line for the better part of a decade. But how does one know if Melton - whose transition to and development at DT is credited equally to Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli - is truly an emerging Warren Sapp or a product of the system and coaching staff? Until Melton has produced outside the DT/sack friendly confines of the Tampa-2 how can the Bears know whether he is worth the long-term financial commitment he is seeking this winter?
Melton is a terrific player but is he a consistently dominant one? (Look no further than Cincinnati and Geno Atkins to see a player who alters the opposition's offensive game plan on a week-by-week basis for an example of such.) Melton is not that player...yet. While the statistics are starting to lean in his favor the eyeball test reveals Melton is only occasionally disruptive. But don't think the Bears aren't aware that Atkins is entering the final year of his rookie contract and could demand upwards of $10 million per moving forward. If they do not hammer out an agreement with Melton and his production increases in 2013, the price tag could be significantly higher.
Is it a risk? Yes. But it is a risk the Bears should take.
The defensive tackle in the modern day NFL is not a statistic-driven position. As the league has moved to the 3-4 in an overwhelming fashion the best DTs in that alignment - Wilfork, Ngata, Hampton - thrive on their ability to disrupt opposing run games and OCCASIONALLY attack the quarterback. Those three in particular make the most out of limited opportunities to rush the passer. The 4-3, Tampa 2 tackle surges through a gap and attack the quarterback. Melton may be the second best in football currently. But the Bears can't be swayed to overpay a player based on a dearth of talent at his position.
Melton is a terrific player and he should be a member of the Chicago Bears in 2013. Whether he's a member of the organization in 2014 and beyond should still be up for debate.