In the upcoming weeks Bears general manager Phil Emery is going to have to decide what to do with Henry Melton. There is a slim chance he leaves the Bears. The two sides would love to hammer out a long-term deal but the franchise tag is a viable option and should be used.
The franchise tag allows a team to keep one of their own unrestricted free agents for one season if they are not able to agree on a new deal. The player must be paid the average of the top five salaries at the player's position.
Of the team's crop of unrestricted free agents, Melton is the only player deserving of the tag. Other players are not good enough to earn a top five salary and Brian Urlacher is too old to continue to make that kind of money.
Melton was named to his first Pro Bowl this past season right in time for a new deal. He will likely command around $8-10 million per year but the Bears should not be so quick to hand that to him.
Not since Tommie Harris has the team had their three-technique tackle they so covet in Melton but they were also burned by Harris' deal.
In 2008, Harris signed a four-year, $40 million deal that was supposed to go through the 2012 season. Injuries derailed the former Pro Bowl player's career and there was a sharp decline in his production. The Bears parted ways with Harris after the 2010 season. He had just six starts and only 1.5 sacks that year.
Using the franchise tag on Melton will give the Bears another year to first decide if they want to stick with the 4-3 defense and second give to give them a better view of Melton. Last year he missed a couple games due to injury and his durability has to be a concern going forward.
With so much uncertainty on the defense and the direction it is going it might not be the wisest move to shell out a large contract a defensive tackle. Melton is good but is not on the level of J.J. Watt who can fit into any defense.
Should the Bears choose to franchise Melton he will earn a shade over $8 million next year. You can thank Ndamukong Suh and his $12.1 million salary for inflating the number.
Another concern when evaluating Melton is his tendency to disappear against quality opponents. He had three sacks at the beginning of last year against the Colts and Packers but had very subpar efforts against Houston, San Francisco and in Minnesota. All key losses for the Bears.
The season before that he feasted on inferior competition but struggled against team's with strong interior linemen.
Melton is still a very good player with a ton of upside. When you sign him to a long-term deal you are hoping his best years are ahead of him and at only 26 years old that very well could be the case. The question is do you want to take that chance?
When you hand a player a big contract you look for consistency. For a good as Melton is the Bears could use another year to fully evaluate him before locking him up long term. Using the franchise tag on Melton would be a wise decision for the Bears and a move they should make.