Chicago Bears: Henry Melton, Not Urlacher, Should Be Bigger Free-Agent Priority

Travis WakemanCorrespondent IIJanuary 12, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 25: Henry Melton #69 of the Chicago Bears rushes against Brandon Fusco #63 of the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on November 25, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Vikings 28-10.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As the Chicago Bears' search for a new head coach to replace Lovie Smith continues, it won't be long before the team is faced with several crucial offseason decisions. Players such as Jason Campbell, Israel Idonije and Nick Roach will be free agents, and so will two of team's best players on defense, Brian Urlacher and Henry Melton.

Urlacher has been the face of the Chicago defense for over a decade, but he is coming off a season in which he registered just 68 tackles—the second-lowest total of his career. That was mostly due to the fact that he missed the final four games of the year with an injured hamstring.

Melton, on the other hand, had a very good season, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. In his last two seasons, he has racked up 13 quarterback sacks from the defensive tackle position and has been very good against the run.

It remains to be seen who the Bears will bring in as their new coach and what kind of philosophy he will install, but the team will clearly have some tough decisions to make. While free agency doesn't get started until March, the Bears currently have a little over $13 million in open salary-cap space.

While still very productive, Urlacher has had just four sacks in the last five seasons combined and will be 35 years old when the season starts next year. Meanwhile, Melton looks to have several big seasons ahead, with 15.5 sacks already in his first three seasons.

The Bears may very well be able to sign both of these players this offseason—and if he continues his playing career, it would be hard to imagine Urlacher in another uniform. But if the team is faced with a choice between Urlacher or Melton, the decision should be easy.