Chicago Bears: 2014 NFL free agency
The Bears released Podlesh in March prior to the start of free agency after the seven-year NFL veteran averaged 40.6 yards per punt, with a 37.9-yard net average in 2013.
Podlesh, who signed a five-year, $10 million contract with $3.5 million guaranteed with the Bears on July 30, 2011, was scheduled to count $1.825 million against Chicago’s salary cap in 2014 before team decided to cut ties with the punter.
Podlesh’s best season in Chicago came in 2011 when he set the Bears’ single-season record in net punting average (40.4). His 42.4 yards career gross punt average ranks second in team history.
The 30-year-old Podlesh spent his first four years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL draft.
Podlesh and second-year kicker Brad Wing are the only two punters listed on the Steelers’ official offseason roster.
Former Pittsburgh punter Drew Butler will have an opportunity to replace Podlesh in Chicago, if he wins the Bears’ starting job in the preseason.
Britton started 30 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2009 to '12, making 23 starts at right tackle and seven starts at left guard. Jacksonville drafted Britton out of Arizona in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft.
The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Britton could be in line to receive extended time with the first team at right tackle in the offseason as Jordan Mills recovers from January foot surgery.
The Bears, like most NFL teams, try to limit the amount of contract information that reaches the media. However, the organization took its top secret approach to a new level with Allen, who ultimately signed a deal that contained $15.5 million worth of guaranteed money.
"We met at night away from the hotel. Ken had come to meet us and we were standing out facing the parking lot and [ESPN's] John Clayton came up to [Bears contract negotiator] Cliff Stein to shake his hand. Fortunately, John's back was to Ken who was walking up to say hi to me, and I grabbed Ken and pulled him around a post [to avoid detection].”
Emery explained why the Bears felt it necessary to be clandestine about the Allen contract negotiation.
“It does make difference on any contract situation because you've removed the pressure of other situations," Emery said. “The fact we were able to do this quietly removed [other team's abilities to] counter. We were the right fit and we were going to continue to push it through without it getting out in the media to allow teams to counter while we were trying to work out an agreement.”
Allen is the 28th player the Bears have signed since the week before the final regular-season game of 2013 versus the Green Bay Packers. Whatever negotiating tactics the Bears have used, extreme or not, have clearly been effective.
Jared Allen jumps from the Minnesota Vikings to the Chicago Bears, just four days after Julius Peppers emigrates from the Bears to the Green Bay Packers? We sure do love our star-player-faces-his-old-team melodrama up here in NFC North country, and even by the lofty standards of a division that gave us Favre vs. Rodgers in 2009 and the hottest existential question of 2013 (who is Greg Jennings?), this week's game of musical chairs between pass rushers created intrigue. After all, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Jennings never got to hit their former teammates on the field.
But behind the flurry of roster moves lies three teams with distinct defensive problems, and three disparate approaches to solving them. How each strategy pans out could have a large hand in untangling the NFL's most mediocre division a year ago.
The Vikings had lived for years on a defensive line anchored by Allen and tackle Kevin Williams, who were named to 10 Pro Bowls between them in Minnesota. But when that foundation aged, and the arrival of coach Mike Zimmer brought a new approach to the 4-3 defense this winter, the Vikings decided they needed to revitalize the position more than they needed to give Allen a new contract before he turned 32. Instead of retaining Allen, they gave $20 million guaranteed to 26-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen, who has so far delivered production mostly in flashes.
The Packers, decimated by injuries in 2013 and forced to generate much of their pressure by bringing extra rushers, needed a player who could give blockers something to think about other than linebacker Clay Matthews. They gave Peppers a three-year, $30 million deal, with plans to add linebacking duties to the defensive end's resume and hopes that Peppers could learn a new role in a 3-4 defense at age 34.
And the Bears, who couldn't get to the quarterback or stop the run in 2013, let Peppers and Henry Melton walk and pivoted to Allen, giving him a four-year contract worth up to $32 million and crossing their fingers he could be a complete player at age 32 and beyond.
All three strategies carry considerable risk, but all three teams had substantial incentive to make changes. Zimmer's defense called for Vikings linemen who would be stout against the run before chasing quarterbacks, and Allen didn't fit that profile. The Packers and Bears were 30th and 32nd in the league in quarterback pressures, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and both teams were among the league's worst at getting to the quarterback with four pass rushers.
What's more, all three teams have central figures on offense who aren't getting any younger. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson turned 29 earlier this month, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will be 31 in April and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers turns 31 in December. If some of the changes seem rash, it's because keeping the status quo probably carried greater risk.
Still, the moves should command headlines as much because of their boldness as the players they involve. The Vikings, Packers and Bears are all gambling they've got the best way to fix an anemic defense -- the Vikings by reinventing their defense, the Packers by trusting an aging player can reinvent himself and the Bears by believing a veteran pass rusher needs no reinvention. How their respective strategies work could swing the NFC North race in any number of directions next season, which might ultimately be the most compelling outcome of this week's moves.
But next fall, when Peppers is bearing down on Cutler or Allen is trying to corral Peterson? Well, we'll still have fun with that, too.
Contract: Third contract with Bears -- four years, $22.4 million
Years of service with Bears: 2010-present
Recap: The Bears viewed Jennings as a placeholder when they initially signed him to a two-year deal in 2010 after he played the first four years of his NFL career in Indianapolis. Three contracts later, Jennings is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and considered one of the defense's top performers. In four years in Chicago, Jennings has 287 tackles, 16 interceptions, 45 pass breakups and five forced fumbles in 58 starts. Jennings led the NFL with nine interceptions in 2012, tied for the second most in Bears' single-season history. Not bad for a player that began 2010 as the No. 3 cornerback on the roster behind Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman.
Position: Running back
Contract: Four years, $12.5 million
Year of service with Bears: 2010
Recap: Taylor had a successful eight-year run in Baltimore and Minnesota. He even rushed for 1,216 yards in 2006 for the Vikings. But Taylor only averaged 2.4 yards per carry on 112 attempts (267 yards) in 2010. While Matt Forte flourished in the backfield en route to another 1,000 season (1,069 yards), Taylor never seemed to find a groove. Instead of paying Taylor's salary in 2011, the Bears released him. He played one more season for the Arizona Cardinals before leaving the league. Taylor's signing began a steak of bad No. 2 running backs behind Forte on the depth chart.
Position: Left tackle
Contract: Five years, $35,965,000 with $17,715,000 in total guarantees
Years of service with Bears: 2013-present
Recap: The perception is the Bears overpaid for Bushrod. In reality, the seven-year NFL veteran represented a massive upgrade over former starting left tackle, J'Marcus Webb. Bushrod anchored a Bears' offensive line that stayed intact for the entire 2013 season, until rookie right tackle Jordan Mills injured his foot in the first quarter of the team's Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. With Bushrod protecting quarterback Jay Cutler's blind side, the Bears tied for fourth in the NFL with the fewest sacks allowed (30), while the line helped pave the way for tailback Matt Forte to rush for a career-high 1,339 yards. Bushrod is a professional in the locker room. He handles his business with class and is a terrific role model for the younger, impressionable offensive linemen.
Position: Tight end
Contract: Five years, $15 million
Year of service with Bears: 2010
Recap: Manumaleuna, a favorite of ex-offensive coordinator Mike Martz, caught five passes for 43 yards and one touchdown in his lone season with Chicago. He was released the following summer for reporting to training camp overweight, forcing the Bears to carry $1.6 million of dead salary cap money. Manumaleuna had a good run in the NFL with stops in St. Louis and San Diego, but failed to make an impact in Chicago. He missed a team meeting the night before the regular-season opener because he misunderstood the schedule. Manumaleuna was a fine guy in the locker room, but he never got with the program. He never played in another NFL regular-season game after his release from the Bears.
In fact, he probably shouldn't even be called a defensive end.
The way Packers coach Mike McCarthy explained it to reporters on Tuesday at the NFL annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., the newest addition to the Packers' defense will play a hybrid position -- a combination of an outside linebacker and defensive lineman the Packers will call an "elephant."
In preparing for that role, Peppers will spend most of his individual practice time and meeting sessions with the linebackers, who were merged into one group under assistant head coach Winston Moss and position assistant Scott McCurley following the resignation of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene shortly after last season ended. It also means Peppers will not work directly under defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was Peppers' defensive line coach and defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-08.
"Elephant is a term used for a multiple-position player along the defensive front," McCarthy told reporters at the league meetings. "Julius will be part of that group.
"The specifics I'd rather get into once the players find out, once we go through it with the players, but that's the big-picture outlook for the way we'll use Julius defensively."
In his only public comments since he signed with the Packers, Peppers, who was released this month by the Chicago Bears, told the Packers' web site he expected his role to be "something different" than it was during his stint with the Bears.
This would qualify as such.
Even before the Packers signed Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract on March 15, they had planned to use the elephant position for Mike Neal and Nick Perry. In some defenses, the elephant position is used to describe an end who lines up between the offensive tackle and the tight end (in what is called the 7 technique) but based on McCarthy's comments on Tuesday, it appears he has multiple positions in mind for his elephants.
Perry, a former first-round draft pick, was a defensive end in college but switched to outside linebacker with only moderate success the past two years. Neal played his first three NFL seasons at defensive end before he switched to outside linebacker last season.
The trio of Neal, Peppers and Perry could be interchangeable this season.
"It's not only your position, your alignment, it's your assignment," McCarthy said. "So he has more to offer in his opinion, and I agree with him, from an assignment standpoint. So where he aligns, competing against Julius, he's lined up on both sides at defensive end. He has been an inside rusher, so those experiences he already has and will continue to do so."
The addition of Peppers and the redefinition of some positions could make coordinator Dom Capers’ defense look a lot less like the traditional 3-4 he has run throughout his 28-year NFL coaching career. But McCarthy said Capers' defense has evolved into a two-linemen look more than ever to combat the spread offenses used so prolifically around the league.
"How much 3-4 defense do we play?" McCarthy said. "We've been averaging 24-25 percent over the past five years. So we're playing so much sub."
When the Packers do use their base defense, McCarthy confirmed that recently re-signed lineman B.J. Raji will return to his old position, nose tackle. Raji played more at defensive end the past three seasons, when his productivity waned. McCarthy said the plan for Raji will be to "cut him loose."
But in the meantime, we decided to spend this week taking a look at some of the best and worst free-agent acquisitions made over the past five years by the Chicago Bears. Here’s the second part of five installments. Feel free to add some of your own in the comments section:
Position: Left guard
Contract: One year, $820,600
Years of service with Bears: 2013-present
Quarterback Jay Cutler said that Slauson provided "toughness, a nastiness, a veteran leadership which was needed for the younger guys. He's constant. Every single day he's grinding. He was able to show Kyle [Long] what it takes to be a successful guard in the NFL. I was really excited to hear that he's going to be here four more years protecting me."
Position: Running back
Contract: Two years, $5 million
Years of service with Bears: 2011
Recap: From the backflip fail during a win at Carolina, to two late-game mishaps that played huge roles during a Chicago overtime loss at Denver, former running back Marion Barber had a somewhat rocky tenure in one season in Chicago after a fairly successful six-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys. Barber rushed for 422 yards and six touchdowns on 114 carries with the Bears in 2011, but the Bears opted to add Michael Bush the very next offseason to serve as the primary backup to starter Matt Forte. Maybe Barber saw the writing on the wall, but in March of 2012 the running back, then 28, decided to retire. Barber was due a base salary of $1.9 million for 2012.
"I want to thank everyone who gave me the opportunity to play, and I'm very thankful to have had the chance to suit up for two of the NFL's most storied organizations," Barber told the team’s official website.
With that, he was gone. Barber reported to training camp for the Bears out of shape and dealt with a variety of nagging injuries. With the Bears still fighting for a spot in the postseason, Barber ran out of bounds late in regulation during a 13-10 overtime loss to Denver with his team leading and needing to run out the clock. Then in overtime, he fumbled for the first time all season, which led to Denver’s game-winning field goal.
Barber finished his NFL career with 4,780 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns.
The first wave of free agency has come to a close, but the Chicago Bears still aren't done adding players. We anticipate the club continuing to build the roster all the way through free agency, and even after the draft.
But in the meantime, we decided to spend this week taking a look at some of the best and worst free-agent acquisitions made over the past five years by the Chicago Bears. Feel free to add some of your own in the comments section:
Good: Julius Peppers
Position: Defensive end
Contract: Six years, $84 million
Years of service with Bears: 2010-13
Bad: Sam Hurd
Position: Wide receiver
Contract: Three years, $5.1 million
Years of service with Bears: 2011
The Atlanta Falcons continued to bolster their roster for the 2014 season with the addition of the most accomplished kick return man in NFL history.
Devin Hester, who spent his first eight seasons with the Chicago Bears, agreed to a three-year contract with the Falcons. The 31-year-old Hester could have an impact both on special teams and as a receiver. He just needed a fresh start.
Hester has a chance to set a new NFL record for touchdown returns, a record he currently shares with his mentor and former Falcon Deion Sanders (each with 19). Playing indoors at the Georgia Dome might help him accomplish the feat sooner than later.
ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright review what the move means for both teams.
McClure: Naturally, folks are going to ask if Devin Hester still has it. He turns 32 in November and, of course, hasn’t had as many touchdown returns lately as he had earlier in his career. How much juice do you believe he has in him based on what you saw last year?
Vaughn, you were here in Chicago when the Bears were trying to make Hester a receiver. In your opinion, why didn’t it work out, and will Hester actually get a chance to play offense in Atlanta because having covered Dirk Koetter in Jacksonville, he’s always struck me as a very innovative guy?
McClure: Hester had his moments as a receiver in Chicago, although some folks criticized his ability to pick up the offense. He caught a career-high 57 passes for the Bears in 2009 and posted 40 or more catches in three seasons. Former Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake had an extreme amount of faith in Hester and constantly touted him as a No. 1 receiver. Now, those were high expectations to meet, maybe too high. But Hester's real downfall on offense in Chicago, from my perspective, was his inability to establish chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler. I know Hester can sometimes take criticism to heart, and Cutler didn’t bite his tongue in speaking his mind. I think Hester just got fed up with getting beat down, which is why he asked not to play offense anymore. Again, this is a fresh start. If he’s utilized on offense, as expected, he won’t be asked to be the primary target with Julio Jones and Roddy White in the equation. But he can be a valuable weapon for quarterback Matt Ryan out of the slot in the screen game and with reverses. The coaches in Chicago thought Hester’s best route was the deep post.
MCW, we saw what happened with Brian Urlacher in Chicago. Then a Hall of Fame candidate such as Hester walks out the door right behind him. What’s the feeling within the team about letting such respected players go, even if they’re not in their prime?
Wright: I’m sure some of the veteran players such as Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman aren’t thrilled about it, but everyone in that locker room understands the business end of things aren’t pretty; especially with a fairly new general manager in Phil Emery and a new coach in Marc Trestman still trying to put his stamp on the organization. Shoot, Tillman almost didn’t find his way back. I remember Urlacher saying something about the team not having any loyalty when it announced it wasn’t going to re-sign Hester. So there’s certainly a segment of players not happy about this. I’d say the majority of the heavy special-teams contributors aren’t pleased about Hester’s departure because he’s the type of player that can make his blockers look good, obviously. Chicago currently is a team in transition, and a lot of the players brought in when former coach Lovie Smith was running the show are now seemingly on the way out.
How much of an advantage do you see in Hester playing on turf in the Georgia Dome as opposed to him returning kicks on what had usually been a sloppy track at Soldier Field all these years?
McClure: I think it will be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. Naturally Hester will be able to field punts and kickoffs cleaner without dealing with the wind and cold in Chicago. He should be quicker on the FieldTurf surface, although opponents will be faster on it, too. Where it might work to his disadvantage is on kickoffs. There’s likely to be little to no chance he gets to return based on touchbacks. And now the league is talking about moving kickoffs up from the 35 to the 40-yard line. It might take the kickoff return from the game, completely. So, we’ll see how Hester adjusts. I remember watching Hester bring back kickoffs for scores indoors at St. Louis. We’ll see if he can recapture his magic.
Hester was beloved in Chicago for so many years. Who will the Bears count on to replace Hester in the return game? Chicago got so accustomed to his unique ability.
Wright: See, that’s my problem with Hester leaving. You’ve got to have someone waiting in the wings to replace Hester’s production, and that player simply isn’t there. It seemed like the Bears did the same thing when they decided to release Julius Peppers and replace him with a guy coming off a career-high six sacks, while Peppers -- despite a down year -- generated more sacks. Toward the end of last season, the Bears signed receiver/return specialist Chris Williams, who had spent time with the New Orleans Saints and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League before joining the club. The club also recently signed Domenik Hixon, who didn’t even contribute last season in the return game for the Carolina Panthers. Earl Bennett would have seemed a good candidate to replace Hester, but the Bears released him. I guess Eric Weems and Michael Ford, who was an undrafted rookie in 2013, also are candidates. All of those players have one thing in common though: none are even close to being on Hester’s level as a return man. So it’ll be interesting to see how Chicago handles replacing arguably the greatest return man to ever play the game.
As you well know, sometimes Hester makes questionable decisions when fielding punts and kickoffs. How will he mesh with special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, who worked for the Bears prior to Hester’s arrival in Chicago, and do you think the coach will alleviate some of those issues?
McClure: I’m going to keep this short and sweet: Armstrong won’t tolerate it. I saw how he got after guys for fumbling in games, and one return man even lost his job because of it. Armstrong is one of the best special-teams coaches in the business and holds players to high standards. He won’t bend the rules for Hester.
“We gave them a chance to make an offer, and they said they would wait to see what the market was and we don’t do business like that,” Melton said. “They dropped out early.”
According to a source familiar with the situation, the Bears never really ever entered the derby because they didn’t make an offer.
Asked about Melton at the start of free agency, Emery said he “pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that [Melton] was gonna go through [the free-agent] process, and when he got through it, and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time.”
Upon learning of those remarks, the source said, “If you want to sign someone badly enough, you make offers and don’t wait.”
So that’s where we stand regarding Melton, who will attempt to regain his Pro Bowl form after undergoing left ACL surgery in 2013. The Bears paid Melton $8.45 million last season as the franchise player, and received just three games as a return on the investment.
So Chicago probably made the right move in not overpaying for Melton.
The club will certainly find out in 2014 when it hosts Melton and Dallas at Soldier Field.
After releasing DeMarcus Ware and losing Jason Hatcher, the Cowboys found their answer in Henry Melton, who agreed to a one-year deal with an option for three more on Tuesday night.
Melton has 15.5 sacks for his career and went to the Pro Bowl in 2012 as a member of the Chicago Bears, but he played in only three games in 2013 because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
ESPN.com Chicago Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer take a look at what the move means for both teams.
Todd Archer: What are the Cowboys getting in Melton?
Michael C. Wright: If Melton plays like he did in 2011 and 2012 (13 combined sacks), the Cowboys are getting a heck of a player who probably still hasn’t reached his potential, because you have to remember the Bears drafted him to play defensive end in 2009 and he didn’t become a defensive tackle full time until 2011. In Melton’s first season as a full-time interior defensive lineman, he led all NFC defensive tackles with seven sacks. My only gripe with Melton is he’s probably not as stout as you’d like against the run. As an under tackle, obviously Melton is more of a penetrator than a run-stuffer. But as you know, the No. 1 objective of any defense is to stop the run, and I don’t think Melton does that as well as he rushes the passer. Just watch next season, you’ll see several times when Melton will slash into the backfield only to have the running back run right past him. As good as Melton is at running down plays from the backside, he’ll struggle somewhat when teams run right at him. Another thing you’ll notice about Melton is he has a tendency to run hot and cold. I know in his first season as a full-time starter, Melton admitted that increased playing time wore on him down the stretch. But the bottom line is if Dallas gets a committed Melton, who shows up to camp in shape and playing with a passion, he’ll be worth every dollar the Cowboys spent.
Did the Cowboys get desperate? I know there’s an escape hatch in the deal, but it seems like the Cowboys paid quite a bit.
Archer: I don’t know if they were desperate, but they had to do something after losing Ware and Hatcher. The first-year value is a maximum of $5 million, so the Cowboys won’t be hamstrung by the salary cap in the first year. The big money happens in 2015, and if he has a terrific season, the Cowboys would be more than willing to gamble on a 28-year-old going forward. Without seeing the deal in its entirety, I think the Cowboys have a deal that allows them to pay as they go. I think the desperate move would have been to give him a four-year deal with no escape clause, and a more desperate move would have been to give in on Jared Allen's contract demands. So far this offseason, the Cowboys have been disciplined financially. Maybe it’s a new way of doing business.
Can you talk about the relationship he forged with Rod Marinelli?
What caused negotiations to take so long? He visited another team after leaving Dallas, and wasn’t there something Tuesday night holding up the deal even though Melton was tweeting he was about to be a Cowboy?
Archer: I think it was just the structure of the deal. You just don’t see very many of these kinds of deals, and the team and his agent, Jordan Woy, wanted to make sure everything was just right so the contract would be approved by the NFL. I think by letting Melton leave to visit the St. Louis Rams, the Cowboys showed they were willing to move on without him and they were able to get him more at their price than at his price. To me, if a free agent is visiting a bunch of teams, he’s not getting what he wants and he’s looking for that great offer. That is what happened with Hatcher and the Redskins. He received $27.5 million and $10 million guaranteed without even visiting. For a lot of years the Cowboys have forked over big money to free agents and they have not received the payoff on the field. This is a risk, but it’s mitigated some by the structure of the contract.
It seems like the Bears had some concerns with his maturity, what’s the deal?
Wright: Bears general manager Phil Emery mentioned Melton's “passion” for the game and commitment to rehabbing from the torn ACL as potential concerns right after the season, but I’m not sure there’s quite enough evidence to suggest he’ll have issues in the future. In fact, at the time, I thought Emery was sort of laying the seeds to give Melton a low-ball offer in free agency. "Henry, in particular, 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," Emery said back on Jan. 2. But maybe Emery’s concerns about Melton’s commitment to rehab stemmed, in part, from his arrest back in December for that incident out in Grapevine, Texas. The night Melton was arrested, the Bears were out in Philadelphia getting ready to play for a spot in the postseason. And although Melton wasn’t obligated to be with the team or at its facilities rehabbing at the time, you know the perception a situation like that puts out: instead of working out and rehabilitating, Melton is back home getting into a bar fight. Sure, Melton is known to go out and have a good time, just like many of his peers around the NFL, and he’s still a very young player. But the only concern I’d have regarding Melton’s maturity is the fact he’s now back in his hometown playing for the home team, and he’s likely to be surrounded by a lot of old friends and family that might distract from his focus on the craft. At the same time, I think being back with Marinelli might alleviate some of that.
Melton is coming off a torn ACL. What are the team’s realistic expectations for him in 2014?
Archer: They expect him to be the guy in 2011-12 who had 13.5 sacks. I don’t think this move takes the Cowboys out of the market for a defensive tackle in the first round of the draft, because the only guarantee is that Melton will be here in 2014. If the right player fell to them, I think they would still take the guy. But they really want this deal to work out. They’re getting a player in his prime -- granted coming off an injury -- and can have him at a relatively good price through his prime. Too often the Cowboys have had to pay guys past their primes. They are also banking on Marinelli. Since he arrived last year he’s become their pass-rush whisperer. What he says goes with management. They passed on Sharrif Floyd in the first round last year because of Marinelli. He was able to take a bunch of guys off the street and make the line competent. With a talent like Melton, whose knee should be fine for at least part of training camp, they think Marinelli can make it work.
Four days ago, in light of news that Henry Melton was the subject of a civil suit, we wrote that regardless of what might take place in a courtroom, the potential return of the defensive tackle was uncertain because of Chicago's unwillingness to overspend.
With Melton posting on Twitter on Tuesday that he's signing with the Dallas Cowboys, let's put it out there right now: The Chicago Bears made the right move despite the fact they'll lose a talented player.
It's also why the organization, after gifting Melton $8.45 million last season in the form of the franchise tag, made the conscious decision to not risk wasting money again. Melton was certainly deserving of a major payday considering he was coming off a 2012 season in which he posted six sacks on the way to making his first Pro Bowl. But the Bears got just three games worth of production the last time they invested heavily in Melton, and those three outings likely won't go down as the defensive tackle's strongest performances.
Make no mistake about it: The Bears wanted to bring back Melton, because in Chicago's defensive system, he's the player who makes it all go. But the Bears stuck to their plan of bringing back Melton only at their own price, which is part of the reason he's headed to Dallas.
"Henry, in particular, 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," Emery said back on Jan. 2. "And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him [last season]. 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. 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 he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."
The Bears made it clear from the beginning that they would not spend frivolously to bring back Melton, with Emery saying he “pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that [Melton] was gonna go through [the free-agent] process, and when he got through it, and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time.”
But that time never came because Melton hit the market without the Bears ever making a contract offer, according to an NFL source who said “if you want to sign someone badly enough, you make offers and don't wait.”
Apparently, the Cowboys jumped in quickly with a suitable deal for Melton, who is originally from Grapevine, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, after the defensive tackle also visited with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams. In Dallas, Melton will be reunited with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who served in the same capacity with the Bears from 2010-12, and has called the defensive tackle one of the most natural pass-rushers he's ever coached.
Will Marinelli again coax the best out of Melton in Dallas? That's certainly likely.
But the question marks concerning Melton in Chicago were too significant for the cap-strapped Bears to comfortably make a significant investment in him.
The Bears have constructed the bulk of their offseason deals without signing bonuses, but Tillman did receive a $500,000 bonus when he signed with the team on Friday after an unsuccessful visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the beginning of free agency.
Tillman will also pocket a $100,000 workout bonus, plus a $400,000 roster bonus with the caveat that the two-time Pro Bowl defensive back is active for every game ($25,000 per game on the active 46-man game day roster.
Here is the full breakdown:
Length: One year
Total: $3.25 million
Base: $2.25 million ($250K of which guaranteed for injury)
Roster bonus: $400,000 ($25K per game on the active 46-man roster)
Workout bonus: $100,000
*There are no notes regarding incentives on the NFLPA contract records