The official deadline has not yet passed, but Henry Melton has already confirmed that he’ll play for the Franchise Tag amount of $8.45 million as he and the Bears will not reach agreement on a long term deal.
The Bears and Melton were reportedly “worlds apart” on a long term deal, so this doesn’t come as a big surprise. It means that Melton will be playing for a new contract yet again. Of course, it’s possible that the Bears could franchise Melton yet again at 120% of this season’s tag. That seems highly unlikely unless Melton becomes the second coming of Warren Sapp. If that becomes the case, I’m sure Melton will be extended and the Bears will be happy to do it.
Tagging Melton made sense since the Bears were in a transitional state this season. If they continue with the Cover-2 beyond this season and Melton plays well, he’ll get rewarded with a large contract. If the Bears decide to head in another direction defensively or if his play drops off, the Bears could part ways with Melton with no contract hits beyond 2013.
Over the last couple of seasons, Melton has found his niche with the Bears as a 3-technique defensive tackle, racking up 7 and 6 sacks respectively. Melton earned Pro Bowl honors after last season’s performance.
In order to get that big payday, Melton will need to become more consistent. He shows flashes of outstanding play but then fades at 0ther times. Melton will need to continue his play against the run to become an all-around DT.
I like the added pressure on Melton in another “prove it” season. It will be interesting to see how things play out on the DT rotation as the season goes on. It’s possible the Bears could test Sedrick Ellis to see if he can become an affordable alternative to Melton if a longer-term deal cannot be reached next season.
If the Bears had agreed to a long-term deal with Melton, it could have freed up some cap space. Since that’s off the table, look for the Bears to seek some cap relief and security for Charles Tillman as the candidate most likely to get an extension. I don’t think Cutler will be getting anything before the season starts and might be headed for a Franchise Tag of his own in 2014.