Free-agent spotlight: Henry Melton

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) is carted off after being injured in the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

With free agency set to open March 11, we’ll shine the spotlight on the Bears’ free agents and examine each player’s likelihood to return. As the Combine winds down, we analyze Henry Melton.

Check out previous spotlights: 

- Charles Tillman, CB
- D.J. Williams, MLB
- Major Wright, S
- Corey Wootton, DL
- Josh McCown, QB

Henry Melton 

Position: Defensive tackle
Age (As of Sept. 1, 2014): 27
NFL seasons logged (with Bears): 4 (4)
2013 stats: Started 3 games before tearing ACL in Pittsburgh. Had 5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery. Played on the franchise tag. 

Quotable: 

“Henry, in particular, he has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important. And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him. There was a reason for that 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. So he knows, and that has been related to him that we signed you for a reason. Now let’s focus in on getting healthy, and obviously he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure that he’s focused in on football and having a passion for football.” – Phil Emery to reporters on Jan. 2

“The update is that Henry’s a free agent. I see him every day. I speak with him when he’s in the building. I spent some time with him [Wednesday] coincidentally and we spent 30-45 minutes together. He’s in the process, and hopefully on schedule, of his rehabilitation process. … . If you see him, you’ll see that he has been training and he has been working. He’s very focused. You’ll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now.” – Marc Trestman to reporters on Feb. 20

“The same priority as it is to bring back any player that we would be interested in bringing back. And we do want to bring back Henry and we’ll work through that process.” - Emery to reporters on Feb. 20 when asked about the importance of re-signing Melton.

“All the coaches have said some real positive things. I am just waiting to see what is going to happen. I’m all for staying here.” – Melton to the Chicago Tribune on Feb. 18

Fit with the Bears: As Emery stated, the three-technique is crucial to the Bears defense, regardless of what kind of front it is next season. Getting a player to penetrate from the interior is very valuable, just ask the Lions (Ndamukong Suh) and Bengals (Geno Atkins). By filling a position of need, being relatively young and having already proven he can be a force from the inside, Melton fits like a glove.

Of course, if it were that simple, he would already be re-signed. Melton is coming off a torn ACL, the Bears may not have the cash to give him a lucrative deal and there are plenty of younger options at the position in the draft. The Bears also could consider free agents like Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins, who would be cheaper players to re-sign.

Financials: Melton received $8.45 million last season on the franchise tag. Geno Atkins set the recent standard at the position with his 5-year, $53.327 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. The next big deal will come for Ndamukong Suh, a contract that should top Atkins’. Melton won’t see that — he would be able to score something in that range with a season like 2011-12. Randy Starks is also a free agent, so keep an eye on the deal he receives. Melton, with his age and skill, should be seeking a contract averaging at least $5 million a year (which would be top 10 at the position) and more than $6 million guaranteed (the top 20 defensive tackles receive that or above per Spotrac).

Best guess: Trestman had a positive outlook regarding Melton’s recovery when talking to reporters at the Combine, almost two months after Emery put the defensive tackle on notice. The defense did play well with Melton in the lineup, though he didn’t compile any impact plays in his three games, and then came the ACL and a December arrest. The Bears need an impact player at that position. Melton is probably the best option (out of Ratliff, Collins, free agents and draft prospects), but he may be too expensive for a team that has too many needs.

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