This was one of those moments in which the Dallas Cowboys were extremely lucky to be preceded by their reputation. It was no secret that, as Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton wanted to be a member of the Cowboys.
Melton, after all, is a Texas kid through and through. Born in Desoto, raised in Grapevine and schooled in Austin, where he of course started for the Longhorns.
Maybe it was that geographical advantage Dallas gained from being the football capital of the world. Maybe it was the allure of America's Team. Maybe it was the prospect of reuniting with Rod Marinelli. Maybe it was all of the above. Regardless, there's a good chance that if he had made strictly a business decision on Tuesday, Melton would not be the newest member of the Cowboys.
Because Dallas was so strapped for cash that it had to let not one, not two, but three star defensive linemen walk during the first week of free agency. And Melton, who had reportedly been receiving interest from St. Louis, Minnesota and Seattle, certainly could have done better than this, right?
We don't have the financial details of the deal yet, but unless that 2014 salary is mind-blowingly high this is a dream come true for Jerry Jones and Co. That's because they're in the driver's seat immediately, and they get to decide if they want to keep him on the payroll beyond this season.
That's huge considering that not only is Melton recovering from a torn ACL, but he's also caught up in some legal trouble after allegedly getting into a scrap at a Texas bar in December.
Jason Hatcher was coming off one hell of a season, DeMarcus Ware is quasi-irreplaceable and Anthony Spencer—assuming that he indeed signs elsewhere—will be missed. All three of those guys were Pro Bowlers at least once in the last two years.
But Melton could be better than all three, especially with the incentive that comes with a put-up-or-shut-up one-year deal, which this essentially is from his perspective. Let's not forget that the 27-year-old is also several years younger than all three of those departed studs.
The Marinelli factor is also massive. The Cowboys defensive coordinator served in the same role with the Bears between 2010 and 2012. He's known as a magician when it comes to coaching up defensive linemen based partially on what he's done in Dallas, partially on what he did in Tampa, but also on the way he groomed Melton from fourth-round pick in 2010 to decent reserve that season to reliable starter in 2011 to full-out star in 2012.
"The Cowboys' ability to land free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton," notes ESPN.com's Todd Archer, "was a lot about the contract, a lot about Melton possibly wanting to play at home and a lot about Marinelli."
Melton was only up for grabs right now and at this price because of that torn ACL, which cost him all but three games in 2013. But under Marinelli in 2012, Melton was one of the NFL's best defensive tackles, picking up six sacks and recording more pressures than all but four other defensive tackles, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), despite missing two games.
That earned him the league's seventh-highest PFF grade at that position.
|PFF: Most productive pass-rushing defensive tackles, 2012|
|1. Geno Atkins||12.7|
|2. Ndamukong Suh||9.0|
|3. Kyle Williams||8.0|
|4. Desmond Bryant||7.8|
|5. Henry Melton||7.7|
|6. Gerald McCoy||6.9|
|7. Cullen Jenkins||6.6|
|8. Linval Joseph||6.3|
|PRP = Pass-rushing productivity rating|
"I'm excited to come back home and work with Rod and get back to my Pro Bowl form," Melton told ESPNDallas.com after agreeing to terms Tuesday night. "It's a great group of guys there and I've talked to them the last few days."
This hasn't been an ideal free-agency period for the cap-strapped Cowboys, but Melton and the team should be excited. This guy is good enough to single-handedly save a franchise that desperately needs it.