Former Bear and All-Pro DT Henry Melton has signed with the Cowboys for a rumored 1-yr, $4M deal. I hope that’s not all it would have taken to bring Melton back to Chicago. With the release of Earl Bennett today, the Bears had more than enough cap room to match or even beat that offer. It’s possible they never had the option, but Bears GM Phil Emery said last week that Melton’s agent was going to come to Chicago with Melton’s best offer and give the Bears a chance to match. With no DTs left on the free agent market anywhere near as talented as Melton, I’m confused why the Bears wouldn’t match what seemingly is a very reasonable contract for a 27-year-old, former pro bowl DT? Maybe Melton didn’t want to come back? Maybe he wanted to play for his former D-line coach Rod Marinelli? Or maybe Melton wanted to be in Dallas to deal with his pending court case after he bit the owner of a Dallas bar back in December. Who knows? Perhaps more details will come out over the next 24 hours that clear things up a little, but my initial reaction is that the Bears made their first mistake of the off-season.
Right now, DT Nate Collins is the only 3-technique DT on the roster. Collins is a solid player and only 26 so his best years could be ahead of him, but there is currently no depth on the roster behind him. Phil Emery said just last week that the 3-technique DT is the “engine that drives the defense”. Collins is a 6-cylinder on his best day and Melton, in 2012 at least, was an 8. The free agent market for DTs is pretty barren at this point, so there is no quick fix available. By most free agent rankings, Melton was the best DT available and the next 8-10 guys on the lists have already signed elsewhere. I will go into detail about the few options remaining in a post tomorrow, but former Bills DT Alex Carrington is the best fit available right now. If the Bears don’t sign Carrington they are putting themselves in a “draft for need” situation which is not a good strategy no matter how you look at it. It could tie Emery’s hands from moving down in the draft and if the Rams decide to take DT Aaron Donald at 13, it could push the Bears into drafting DT Timmy Jernigan who isn’t a clear fit for the 3-technique position.
There is a ludicrous notion being floated by another Bears website that the Bears should celebrate Melton going to the Cowboys because it gives the Bears more flexibility in draft. At least I think that is his point? Make no mistake Bears fans, there is nothing to celebrate about Melton going to the Cowboys. The Bears just lost their most talented defensive lineman to a conference rival. The Bears now have a gaping hole at arguably the most important position on their defense, there are no replacement options with close to Melton’s talent, and the Bears are now practically forced into using one of their top draft picks on a DT. I’m all for sunshine and rainbows when they are relevant, but this isn’t one of those times.
Phil Emery has made some savvy moves this off-season, but I can’t fathom how the Bears are better off without Melton than they would have been with him. If this was just about money, then Emery fumbled. Based on Emery’s stellar track record the last two years, my hunch is that Melton choose to play in Dallas based on other factors then just money. That’s obviously out of Emery’s control, but let’s just hope that he has a back-up plan.