2014 NFL Free Agency: Losing Henry Melton Stings, But Not As Much As You Think

2014 NFL Free Agency: Losing Henry Melton Stings, But Not As Much As You Think
Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) moves in to sack Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Defensive tackle Henry Melton officially left the Bears for his hometown Cowboys.

The 27-year-old Texas product signed a one-year, $5 million deal, with an option for three more years on Tuesday night with Dallas.

Melton appeared in 48 games with the Bears making 32 starts in five seasons. The 6-foot-3, 295 pound defensive tackle added 15.5 sacks along with 89 tackles and one pass deflection in that span.

A fourth-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Melton was named to the Pro Bowl team in 2012 with six sacks and 32 tackles under then defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who he’ll be reuniting with in Dallas.

The Bears franchise tagged Melton last off-season for $8.45 million after being unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal. He started three games in 2013 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury.

Melton is a big addition to the Cowboys, who released defensive end DeMarcus Ware and lost free-agent defensive tackle Jason Hatcher to rival Washington this month.

If Melton is on the Cowboys roster at the start of the 2015 league year than his one-year option basically becomes a four-year, $29 million deal with $14 million guaranteed.

The Bears re-signed veterans Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins this off-season as well as brought back Israel Idonije to bulk up the depth. Stephen Paea, a second-round pick in 2011 is entering his final year of his rookie deal and certainly has plenty to prove.

Even with the release of wide receiver Earl Bennett, which saved the Bears over about $2.45 million and Eric Weems likely to be cut, Melton was too pricey.

The Bears have too many holes to fill on defense to simply invest that much money into a player coming off a serious injury and a recent arrest. It’s known that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker certainly values the three-technique position. The Bears were waiting to hear back from Melton after he figured out his value on the open market.

Dallas is a nice fit for Melton. However, Bears general manager Phil Emery admitted Melton’s role on the defense was a big one despite the devastating injury.

“Even though from a statistical standpoint he wasn’t off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was a very important part of the defense,” Emery said Jan. 2.

The Bears shouldn’t be discouraged as they will be able to fill Melton’s shoes via the draft. Pittburgh’s Aaron Donald, Notre Dame’s Louis Nix, Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan and Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman are all first-round talents the Bears could eye with the No. 14 pick.

The depth at defensive tackle is deep as CBSSports.com projects eight players after those four listed above to be selected from round two to round four.

Contuinity on Special Teams

The Bears re-signed safety Craig Steltz and cornerback Sherrick McManis over the last two days, both players are core special teams players. They also signed safety Danny McCray.

Steltz and McCray join Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings as the third and fourth safeties added by the Bears this off-season.

Steltz has made eight career starts since joining the Bears as a fourth-round pick in 2008 out of LSU. He played on 259 special teams snaps in 2013 and started the Week 13 matchup against Minnesota adding a game-high 12 tackles.

McCray, an undrafted free agent in 2010 has also been a core special teamer in his time in the NFL. He reunites with former special teams coach Joe DeCamillis. McCray appeared on 271 special teams snaps in 2013 after starting 10 games in 2012, making 87 tackles and one interception.

The 26-year-old led the Cowboys in special teams tackles in his first two seasons under DeCamillis (2010, 2011) and produced eight in 2013.

Also 26, McManis returns after playing on 209 special teams snaps in 2013, adding 15 tackles, 12 of them solo. He finished second on the team with his tackle total.

He appeared on only 12 defensive snaps a season ago in limited time. With Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings penciled in as the starters and Kelvin Hayden and Isaiah Frey set to battle it out for the nickelback spot, the depth is lacking at cornerback.

McManis hasn’t proven to much more than a special teams player since coming to the Bears via a trade with Houston in 2012. Either way the special teams was shaky at times in 2013 under DeCamillis’ direction for the first time.

Adding Steltz, McCray and McManis are all smart moves as they are cheap and valuable players who can provide plenty of leadership on special teams. Steltz and McCray have the ability to play when needed at safety, a position that is lacking a real identity at this point for the Bears.


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