The Chicago Bears face an interesting decision this offseason besides the fate of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. While there is certainly a sentimental and symbolic importance to the Urlacher situation, the reality is that they are not making a decision on a future Pro Bowler. The next trip Urlacher makes to Hawaii will be on his dime; he won’t be going to represent the NFC any more.
But a player that may be making future trips to Hawaii is defensive tackle Henry Melton, who’s coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance at just the right time, just as he’s due for a new contract. Starting Monday, the Bears have a 15-day window to apply the tag before the new league year and free agency start on March 12th. I think the Bears should slap the old franchise tag on Melton to keep him around for 2013.
If Lovie Smith was still around, I think Hank Melton would be re-upped to a multi-year deal as the featured 3-technique defensive tackle, but there is a changing of the guard at Halas Hall. The Bears brought in Mel Tucker to coordinate Marc Trestman’s defense. Tucker doesn’t plan to change from Lovie Smith’s base 4-3 defense:
New Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is taking a similar tack with the cover-2 defense he inherits from Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli. He’ll tweak it where he can — ‘‘we’ll be an attacking, up-the-field, penetrating defense,’’ he said Thursday. But he won’t mess with success.
The benefit of applying the franchise tag to Henry Melton is it would allow Tucker and the Bears coaching staff to transition the defense with minimal disruption to the key playmakers. While Tucker appears intent on keeping the Cover-2, which requires a penetrating/pass rushing 3-technique defensive tackle, that may not be the case as the defense evolves under Tucker.
There are many flavors of a 4-3 defense. Early in Brian Urlacher’s career, the Bears had two gap defensive tackles, charged with clogging up the middle of the field and force double teams to allow Urlacher to flow to the ball and make plays. Melton is not a two gap DT, weighing in at about 295 pounds.
CSN Chicago’s Kip Lewis points out that the Dallas Cowboys could be a logical suitor for Melton, as the University of Texas product would be a great fit for Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli as they try to build a version of the Cover-2 for the Cowboys.
The franchise tag for Melton would amount to about $8.3 million against the cap for 2013, a manageable figure when you consider what the multi-year deal would put out the Bears on an annual basis and the overall commitment to a player who may not fit a new defensive scheme.
What do you think? Should the Bears tag Melton or should they try to get him to a long-term deal? Should they let me walk and use the $8 million to fix other holes on the team?