The Dallas Cowboys have decided not to pick up former Bears DT Henry Melton’s option years according to his agent, Jordan Woy.
Melton had a decent year as a pass rusher with 6 sacks and 17 Qb hurries as the Cowboys 3rd down pass rusher, but really struggled against the run with a -7.3 grade. Pro Football Focus ranked Melton as the 14th best DT in the league with an 11.5 grade, despite his struggles stopping the run and the fact that he only started 3 games. Melton was signed to be the Cowboys starting 3-tech DT, but 3rd year player Tyrone Crawford had a breakout season (17.8, 10th overall DT) and ultimately took Melton’s starting gig.
It wasn’t much of a surprise that Melton was released; If he were on the Cowboys roster on March 10th, his 3 year contract extension kicks in for $24 million guaranteed. Melton was effective as a pass rusher, but wasn’t dominant enough to warrant an average of $8 million per season over the next three years.
The Cowboys took a chance on Melton in free agency last year, reuniting him with former Bears D-coordinator Rod Marinelli, hoping he would regain his Pro Bowl form from 2012. If Melton had recovered enough from his 2013 ACL tear and played like the dominant pass rusher he was in his last season with the Bears, then it would have been a steal for the Cowboys at $8M per.
Melton started out the season strong with all six of his sacks coming in the first nine weeks, but minor injuries curtailed his effectiveness during the second half and his season was ended in week 17 with a bone bruise on his knee. The Cowboys have some tough salary cap decisions looming with offensive stars Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray both free agents and not much available room under the cap. It would have been difficult for the Cowboys to keep Melton at his contracted price even if his on-field performance was near his 2012 level.
So what is next for Melton? Is he still a fit for the Bears with their new defense under Vic Fangio? Here is what I wrote about Melton in my Bears free agent preview for D-lineman:
"DT Henry Melton – 28, Bears (6’3 | 260): As a Bears fan I was crushed losing Melton to the Cowboys last year and even more so by the fact that he took less guaranteed money than the Bears were offering. In hindsight I don’t blame him for choosing Rod Marinelli over Mel Tucker, but Tucker is gone now and Melton may be a free agent again this year. It has little to do with his play for the Cowboys, which was solid (6 sacks, 11.5 grade from PFF). If Melton is on the Cowboys roster on March 10th, his contract is extended for 3 years at $24M guaranteed.That may be too much for the cap challenged Cowboys to pay, especially if they want to bring back fellow free agents DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. Melton was unhappy with the old Bears regime, but with a new staff in place, Melton may be willing to come back to Chicago and could be a good fit for the under tackle (3-tech) position in Fangio’s scheme. Melton won’t be cheap, but if he can get back to his 2012 Pro Bowl form in his second year removed from ACL surgery he’ll be more than worth it."
We still don’t know what the Bears defensive scheme will look like but assuming that DC Vic Fangio runs something similar to what he ran with the 49ers, then there will be a 3-tech position that could be a fit for Melton. I covered Fangio’s scheme in depth already, but it is closer to the Seahawks 4-3 under scheme than a standard 3-4.
The fact that Melton was just decent in 2014 and had some injury issues again should keep his price at a reasonable level. I think a $2.5M base with incentives up to $4-$5M would be enough to bring Melton back to the Bears. He could give the Bears an inside pass rusher and in his 2nd year removed from his ACL injury could get back to his Pro Bowl form.