The news of defensive tackle Henry Melton receiving the franchise tag wasn't a complete surprise. After all, Melton is a very good interior pass rusher—something worth its weight in gold in the NFL—and there isn't really much to replace him with on the team currently.
As ESPN's Kevin Seifert said in the above article, we can also expect a long-term contract with Melton to be on its way as well.
What this does is free the team up to focus on other needs both in the draft and free agency.
First of all, they can decide how they want to approach some of their other veterans—guys like free agent Brian Urlacher or Julius Peppers—whose contract is a huge burden for the team.
Knowing they have Melton in the interior will give them some leeway in terms of how they handle Urlacher—without Melton, they would have been in a more desperate position.
You can argue that the Bears could lose one of their linchpin interior players but certainly not both.
It also gives them a little latitude with Peppers.
The veteran defensive end's contract is—by far—the biggest burden the team carries in terms of cap hit. Peppers is set to earn $16.1 million dollars and as good as he has been, it's too much.
Now, there is no way they cut him, but with Melton returning, it may help them get Peppers to renegotiate a bit. Of course, you don't replace Peppers' 12 sacks with Melton's five (and you can argue without Peppers there, Melton doesn't see even that many) but it helps to at least put the team in a slightly better bargaining position.
While the Bears sort out their free agents and current contracts, they can do so knowing that their defensive line remains solid in the middle.
They can also look at gaining depth in other areas during the draft.
Defensive tackle was never likely to be high on their list, but given the extraordinary depth of the class this year, they might have been tempted to jump in a little early—perhaps even second or third round—if Melton was gone.
Now they can spend that extra pick on a replacement for Urlacher (whether he returns or not), more help off the edge or possibly offensive line depth.
Again, they can do this knowing that the interior of the defensive line is secure and not something they need to worry about.
Tagging Melton was the smart move for the team, and it allows them to focus on other things. If there was one player they had to keep this off season, it was Melton.
Now that they have done so, they need to continue to build the talent around him.
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