- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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Perhaps the body bite allegedly made by Chicago Bears free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton truly did inflict psychological damage on Donald Payne, owner of Chill Sports Bar & Grill in Grapevine, Texas, as his attorney Darren Wolf says in a lawsuit filed seeking "a sum greater than $1 million," according to WFAA-TV in Dallas.
But rest assured, Chicago's brass is thinking clearly regarding the possibility of the defensive tackle re-signing with the club. And what's quite apparent at this point is the Bears do want to bring back Melton for the 2014 season regardless of this civil suit, viewed as frivolous from this vantage point. But that's only going to take place if it's at the right price (translation: cheap) for the organization.
Why else would the Bears let Melton take multiple visits to other teams -- including one to the division rival Minnesota Vikings -- when they could've snatched him up before the start of free agency?
If you remember, Grapevine police arrested Melton in December with the club on the road preparing to face the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was charged with assault and public intoxication stemming from an altercation with a bartender. Payne, the owner of that establishment, is suing Melton, which is interesting considering the defensive tackle's legal representation was also planning to file a lawsuit.
Asked about the civil suit Thursday filed in Texas against Melton, Bears general manager Phil Emery admitted he was just hearing for the first time about the latest development.
"If that's related to the situation down in Texas, I think that's been an ongoing issue in terms of that issue coming to conclusion and that's all I can talk about it," Emery said. "In terms of evaluating Henry the player, that's separate from that. His on-the-field is one thing in terms of evaluation. The off-the-field is the other. It is a part of it, but that's a legal issue, and that's all I need to say about that."
Will that affect the club's desire to re-sign Melton? Absolutely not, but it does give the Bears ammunition when forming a position about the level of compensation at which they'd feel comfortable paying Melton, not to mention the fact he's coming off a torn ACL. That's not a surprise.
Emery had already been planting the seeds for what's transpiring this very minute back on Jan. 2, and rightfully so, given the cap situation.
"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 then. "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."
Emery makes several valid points. But let's keep it real here: If the Bears wanted to sign Melton badly enough, they would've made a concrete offer (they haven't, by the way) instead of waiting for his agent, Jordan Woy, to first find the defensive tackle's value on the open market. You can't fault the team for taking that position, though. At the same time, the fact is the Bears want to bring back Melton as cheaply as possible.
It's not happenstance that Emery on Wednesday mentioned that teams are "very interested in [Melton's] medical status."
Starting with the Minnesota Vikings, Melton is taking several free-agent trips according to a source.
"We pretty much left it with Jordan that he was going to go through this 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," Emery said. "Of course, the clock is ticking. So our resources or what we have at the time may have changed. But we'll see where we're at when that's all finished."
If somehow it all gets 'finished' as Emery says with Melton winding up in Chicago, you can bet the defensive tackle won't receive anything remotely close to the $8.45 million the club paid in 2013, when it tagged the defensive tackle as its franchise player.
But given the club's recent signings of defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, in addition to Jeremiah Ratliff, the truth is Melton could prove to be the missing piece that completes the puzzle.