Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton‘s contract year did not go as planned. He suffered a season-ending torn left ACL injury in Week Three, then was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault and public intoxication after a bar fight in December. However, while Melton might not be in line for the mega deal many anticipated prior to the season, he remains an athletic, disruptive, pass-rushing three-technique in his age-27 season, making him a coveted asset. Melton talked about his uncertain future with the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs.
The Bears will not franchise Melton and have yet to make a contract offer, but the injured tackle continues his rehab at the Bears facility, remains in contact with the coaching staff and says he’s “all for” staying in Chicago. It sounds as though GM Phil Emery would like to make that happen, but he was not shy about sending a public message to Melton last month:
“He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important,” Emery said. “And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him [for 2013]. There was a reason for that [$8.45 million] investment. The under-tackle position in the scheme that we’re in is the engine that drives the defense. And when he was in the game, even though from a statistical standpoint he wasn’t off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was a very important part of the defense.”
Melton says he’s “80 to 90” percent and believes he’s on track to participate in OTAs in late May, or be ready to go for training camp at the latest. Whether he’s in training camp with the Bears or another team remains to be seen. While it was the previous regime which drafted Melton, a college running back-turned-defensive lineman, Emery has been exposed to Melton for two years and knows better than anyone the risk and reward involved with an extension. He must weigh Melton’s injury risk, on-field inconsistency and overall accountability against his upside, market value and sheer importance to the Bears defense.
Accordingly, Emery faces a difficult decision, especially in the aftermath of most of the team’s off-season salary cap space being allotted to quarterback Jay Cutler. The team’s pressing needs, however, are on the defense, which bottomed out last season and is devoid of established building blocks with the exception of 30-year-old cornerback Tim Jennings and aging linebacker Lance Briggs. Retaining Melton would perhaps allow the Bears to focus on an edge rusher or secondary defender early in the draft.