The Franchise Tag: A GM’s Best Friend


Nov 25, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) is sacked by Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The news broke recently that Bear’s Defensive Tackle Henry Melton will play under his franchise tag and collect a cool $8.45 million. If only I could be so unfortunate to have to settle for that salary.

When the news broke, there were many reactions from Bear fans and sports writers that ranged from dismay to indifference. Truth be told, the franchise tag is a GM’s best friend. Angelo, earlier in his tenure, was reluctant to use the tag and the Bears lost some free agents that I believe they wanted to keep on the roster. Later in Angelo’s reign, he used the tag much more aggressively and was able to reach some key contract agreements…Matt Forte for example.

The tag is tool in the arsenal of a GM, and if used properly, can maintain continuity, buy time and be used as leverage to move negotiations along.  It is difficult for me to imagine how we football fans would feel about our teams if they were gutted every couple of years to free agency.

Let’s look at Henry Melton to illustrate. Here the Bears struck gold in the 4th round.  He is one of those rare finds; a gem of an athlete and he has been very consistent over the past couple of seasons.   We find ourselves with one of the best DT’s in the league and Melton’s fair market value, given his performance, is the $8.45 million he was offered and signed.  The primary reason Melton did not sign his long term offer was because he valued himself higher than the Bears do at this point in time.  Time is on the Bears’ side, not Melton’s.  The move by Melton to not sign the long term deal is a gamble of monumental proportion for him personally.  For the Bears, he is one player on a roster of many players.  For Melton, it is 100% risk.  For the Bears, it is 1/11th risk.  The Tag is a GM’s best friend in negotiations such as this.

There are trade-offs typically with long term deals…you trade a little money for security in the long term. If you have a gambling nature, you might roll the dice and not do the long term deal. Clearly, Melton is rolling the dice. The Bears do not set the market for their core players, but they have been competitive enough to keep several key star players, and future Hall of Famers, on the roster.  I don’t know what deal Melton turned down, but I am pretty sure it was substantial given the importance the Bears place on his position.

Worst case scenario, Melton continues to hold out for more money than the Bears are willing to pay and they either franchise him one more year or let him play the open market. Best case scenario, the Bears sign Melton to a long term deal after the season and he retires a Bear. If he sets the league on fire, he will be worth it. If he is injured, it will be a disaster for Melton. The odds are such that it is in the best interest for the team to use the tag unless the team gets a little home field discount.

My money is on the Bears finding a way to sign Melton next year…this is assuming he stays healthy and continues to play at a very high level. If Melton gets it in his head that the Bears will set the market with his salary, he will have to direct his agent to contact the Redskins, Cowboys or Raiders because that would be totally out of character for the Bears. Of course, we have a new captain at the helm!

I am watching anxiously to see how Emery allocates money and resources moving forward.  Melton’s deal, or lack there of, could be a defining move for Emery.

So Bear fans…are you alarmed by Melton’s contract situation or in a “wait and see” mode?