Chicago Bears: Henry Melton

Everyone, thanks for taking the time to send in questions for this week’s Twitter mailbag.

We won’t have a mailbag next week, and my normal chat on Monday will be cancelled for this week as I’m headed to Texas to visit some friends and family. But everything returns to normal the week after.

Let’s get started:
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Despite general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman expressing a desire to bring back Henry Melton for 2014, the defensive tackle obviously didn’t feel such a vibe.

Melton
Having signed a deal with the Dallas Cowboys in which he can earn up to $5 million in 2014, Melton was asked Wednesday whether it was difficult to leave the Chicago Bears, where he spent the first five years of his career after the club drafted him in 2009 with a fourth-round pick. Melton didn't seem especially pleased about how the Bears dealt with him in free agency.

“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.
Henry Melton and Rod MarinelliGetty Images, Icon SMIDallas signed Henry Melton, left, and believes Rod Marinelli can bring the best out of the pass-rusher.
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys needed to do something -- anything -- to help their defensive line in free agency.

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?

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsRod Marinelli helped make Henry Melton a star in Chicago.
Wright: Todd, I don’t know what it is about Marinelli, but he has a way of getting through to people and helping them play their best. He did it with Warren Sapp, Julius Peppers, Melton and a host of others. I think in Melton, Marinelli saw early on a player who could develop into a star if he could put on some weight and refine his game, and I think the coach relayed those thoughts to the defensive tackle; sort of one of those “if you just listen to me,” type of deals. Prior to the 2011 season when the Bears made the decision to make Melton a defensive tackle full time, Marinelli, former coach Lovie Smith and former general manager Jerry Angelo constantly told everyone Melton was about to have a breakout year. Of course, nobody believed them because the year before, Melton didn’t play much, and when he did he was splitting time between defensive tackle and end. Anyway in Melton’s first year as a starting defensive tackle (2011), he became a beast under Marinelli’s tutelage. Then with more guidance from Marinelli, Melton turned it up a notch in 2012. Melton was certainly missing Marinelli last season with the coach having left for Dallas. Ultimately, Melton believes in Marinelli -- known as an expert motivator and stickler for strict adherence to fundamentals and accountability -- and the coach believes in the player. Marinelli has said Melton is one of the most natural pass-rushers he’s ever coached.

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.
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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.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012 but played in just three games last season.
Provided Melton makes a successful return from left ACL surgery, he appears destined to return to the Pro Bowl -- possibly on multiple occasions. But in addition to Melton's small body of work regarding consistency on the field, the Bears held some trepidation regarding his inconsistency off it. Bears general manager Phil Emery mentioned on Jan. 2 concern about Melton's “passion” for the game of football.

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.

Free-agency review: Bears

March, 18, 2014
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Most significant signing: The Bears made Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston their most expensive acquisition ($15 million guaranteed), but the price could actually turn out to be a bargain if he can replace some of the production lost with the release of Julius Peppers. Houston is a young, ascending player who has a reputation for physicality, which is exactly what Chicago wanted. Houston also provides the Bears versatility in the scheme because of his ability to be impactful as a pass-rusher from defensive end or defensive tackle. As well as Houston played in Oakland, it’s expected he’ll play his best ball in Chicago.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJosh McCown threw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
Most significant loss: Even though Josh McCown was serving as the backup quarterback, his departure to Tampa Bay was significant because of all he did behind the scenes with starter Jay Cutler and the team’s skill-position players. It’s also worth noting that Cutler hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2009. So the chances of the Bears needing the backup to play in 2014 would seem fairly reasonable. The Bears have expressed confidence in Jordan Palmer’s ability to fill McCown’s shoes as the No. 2 quarterback, but they’ll continue to see if they can upgrade at that position.

Biggest surprise: Chicago’s judicious handling of free agency to this point is somewhat of a surprise. Despite several needs on defense, the Bears have resisted the temptation to overspend just for the sake of filling spots. The front office has identified the types of players it would like to add to the defense, and it hasn’t waffled. The club is also staying patient, knowing there are still bargains to be had in the later stages of free agency.

What’s next? It’s difficult at this point to say how free agency will affect Chicago’s draft because free agency for the Bears will likely go all the way until May as the team continues to exercise restraint in its search for impact players. The Bears will still be active in the second and third wave of free agency, and it’s likely the club will land at least one more defensive starter. Even with that, Chicago’s draft will still be focused on defense because it’s time to start looking toward the future. Defensive tackle would appear to be the main target in the draft, and that could still be the case, even if the Bears managed to bring back free agent Henry Melton.

Tillman's return surprises Briggs

March, 17, 2014
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CHICAGO -- Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman's decision to return to the Chicago Bears on a one-year deal even surprised his closest friend on the team.

Tillman
Briggs
Seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs told ESPN 1000's "Carmen and Jurko Show" on Monday he was positive Tillman and Lovie Smith would reunite in Tampa when the cornerback made an official visit to the Bucs at the onset of free agency.

However, talks between Tillman and the Buccaneers went nowhere. Tillman left Tampa's facility without an offer and within 48 hours the two-time Pro Bowl defensive back had agreed to terms on a new one-year contract with the Bears.

"He called me pretty often during this whole time period just to get my opinion on things," Briggs said. "I would call him and see how he felt and when he told me he had a trip to Tampa and I saw Darrelle Revis had been released, I thought it was pretty much a sure thing. I actually sent him a text that I wished him well and tell Lovie I say hi. I thought it was over. Then the next day I wake up and I get texts on my phone that Peanut re-signed. I'm over here screaming and then I called him and we had a long talk about stuff. I'm just happy he's back.

"I'm probably the happiest man in Chicago."

But Briggs lamented the current situation of free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is visiting the Dallas Cowboys on Monday after making previous stops in Minnesota and Seattle. The Bears have never ruled out the idea of re-signing Melton, but it's clear the club is not going to set the market for the three-technique defensive tackle, who played in just three games last year before tearing his ACL. Melton received the franchise tag last offseason and counted $8,454,725 against the Bears' salary cap in 2013.

"Henry Melton is coming off of ACL surgery in a season where he got tagged," Briggs said. "He had no complaints about it. He said he was coming in to play. Remember years back when I got tagged and said I didn't want to play because there are no guarantees past this year and if I get hurt I'll lose money. I wanted a long-term deal. People were calling me selfish for not taking the money, but now you watch Henry Melton go down.

Henry is still on the board as far as free agency goes and he's going to lose money. Football is a business, and for us players, we always have to protect ourselves the best we can. For him, I hope he gets the best possible deal that he can on a good team that can make a run for a championship. He deserves it."
On the eve of free agency last week, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

A week has passed and nine of them already have come off the market, including six who re-signed with their old teams.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released last week. He signed with the Packers on Saturday.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks last week. It’s not known what the Seahawks' medical staff thought of Finley's C-3/C-4 neck vertebra fusion surgery that he had last November following his season-ending neck injury.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago last Friday after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year deal signed on Friday that was believed to be worth $4 million plus incentives.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency and has not had any known visits even after he ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million. Could the same thing happen again?

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency but reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton went unsigned during the first wave of free agency but has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys this week.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Remained unsigned more than a week after the Bears said they would not bring him back.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
Here's this week's edition of our Chicago Bears Twitter mailbag. Enjoy the weekend, and be safe.

 
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.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears aren't as interested about Henry Melton's off-the-field issues as they are about his price tag, but the former does give an idea over how much the team is willing to pay to keep him.
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.
MINNEAPOLIS -- After signing New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph on Monday, the Minnesota Vikings apparently aren't done looking to add to their defensive line.

They will bring former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton to Minnesota for a visit on Thursday, according to a league source. Melton, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2012 for the Bears, is an unrestricted free agent this spring after tearing his left ACL during the third game of last season.

That injury might be what gives the Vikings a chance at Melton, who's just 27 and would likely have had a much more robust market if he hadn't been hurt. He could still get a multi-year deal from a team looking for a three-technique tackle, if he's able to prove he's healthy. The Vikings, on the other hand, would likely be looking for someone to share the load with second-year man Sharrif Floyd. They'd obviously have to offer a role that Melton deemed worth taking, and Melton will have to answer questions about his knee. But if the Vikings get a chance to talk with a player who looked on his way to becoming one of the better defensive tackles in the league before he got hurt, it's probably worth their time.

We'll see what the interest in Melton means for Kevin Williams, who is a free agent and had expressed interest in returning to the Vikings for a 12th season. If he did return, Williams would likely play a reduced role in the Vikings' defense, and would have to learn a new system from the one that's made him a six-time Pro Bowler, but he'd add a veteran presence to a defensive line that's making a pronounced turn toward youth. If the Vikings can get Melton, though, they might not have room for Williams. We'll see how things develop in the next few days.
Disappointment over a potential deal that never materialized with Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Monday didn’t prevent the Chicago Bears from making a couple of cap-saving moves, in addition to shopping Julius Peppers around the league in advance of Tuesday’s start to free agency.

The Bears whiffed -- but not for lack of trying hard -- on Plan A with Bennett, offering more money than the Seahawks, who eventually retained Bennett with somewhat of a hometown discount. But the Bears under the direction of general manager Phil Emery typically devise alternate strategies for adding the players they want in free agency. So while Plan B, C and the other options aren’t fully known at this point, it’s likely Chicago expects to make a flurry of moves in the first wave of free agency and be active all the way through the process.

That’s why the team cut running back Michael Bush -- freeing up $1.85 million in cap space -- released tight end Dante Rosario, and put out calls around the league, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, for a potential trade for Peppers, which likely won’t ever take place. With Peppers counting $18.183 million against Chicago’s cap in 2014, no team wants to take in that salary via a trade. So when a team starts shopping a player, it often results in the club eventually cutting him.

Cutting Peppers with the post-June 1 designation would result in $4.183 million worth of dead money in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015, but given his astronomical cap figures over the next two years, that would still represent respective savings of $14 million and $16.5 million.

But at this point cutting Peppers doesn’t appear to be imminent.

What does seem to be on the way is the re-signing of middle linebacker D.J. Williams. The sides had been in discussion since last week, and negotiations were expected to continue through the weekend. As of Monday evening, the sides -- although still talking -- hadn't come to an agreement, according to a league source who expected a deal to take place late Monday night or early Tuesday.

Chicago also remains interested in re-signing other free agents such as cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackle Henry Melton and backup quarterback Josh McCown. Little information has emerged regarding Tillman’s situation, although he’s been linked to Tampa Bay because of his history with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. The Bears have worked diligently to bring back Tillman, and it’s likely the effort will continue as the cornerback’s prospects with other teams could be limited by his age.

Melton, meanwhile, has generated interest from multiple teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, according to a league source, which would make sense given the defensive tackle’s familiarity with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. That doesn’t mean the Bears won’t be able to re-sign Melton. After all, the Cowboys are tight against their cap, and it’s unknown what kind of money another team might offer Melton, whose value could be diminished since he is coming off an ACL surgery.

As for McCown, as of right now, the Buccaneers appear to be the front-runner to land the quarterback, according to multiple sources, unless another one of the interested teams steps up with a more enticing offer, as the career backup may receive an opportunity to compete for a starting job. According to ESPNChicago’s Jeff Dickerson, McCown’s camp has been in contact with the Bucs, Bears, New York Jets and Houston Texans.

Dickerson also reported the Bears reached out to Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson on Saturday, ostensibly as a secondary option to Bennett, when the negotiation window for unrestricted free agents opened around the league. Although the sides engaged in preliminary talks, as of Monday evening it was believed the Bears weren’t at the top of the list for Johnson, who is widely considered the best available defensive end remaining on the market.

The Bears are also targeting defensive end Lamarr Houston of the Raiders according to a report on the NFL Network.

It’s unknown at this point where that leaves the Bears in terms of addressing needs along the defensive line, but several potential lower-priced options exist, and the salary demands could drop depending on how the first wave of free agency goes.

Safety is another area of need the Bears hope to address in free agency. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Chicago has expressed interest in San Francisco’s Donte Whitner, who would give the Bears an intimidating presence on the back end. A source also confirmed the club’s interest in New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy, who finds Chicago an intriguing opportunity because he’d receive a chance to compete for a starting job.

The Bears ended the day Monday with nearly $10.2 million in cap space, and it’s worth noting the club spent $5.775 million during free agency for the 2013 season on three starters in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Martellus Bennett.

So as the initial sting of losing out on Bennett wears off, Emery said back in January the Bears will still be plenty competitive in terms of putting together a solid team once free agency opens on Tuesday.

We all just have to wait and see.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC North

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
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A few deals have been signed around the NFC North in the days leading up to free agency, but plenty of valuable players are about to hit the open market.

Here is a ranking of top NFC North free agents, with information provided by ESPN.com reporters Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears).

We will update this periodically throughout the next several weeks.

1.Sam Shields, Packers CB: Emerged as the Packers' top cover cornerback last season while playing for the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million and was re-signed to a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period Saturday. His 2014 total pay of $15 million makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid cornerback for next season.

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: The No. 20 pick in the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma State, Pettigrew spent the past five seasons as one of Detroit's primary tight ends, specifically known for the ability to both block and run routes effectively.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Had surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra in his neck but expects to be cleared by his doctor. Gambled two years ago in free agency, signing just a two-year, $14 million deal in the hope that he would blossom into a star and command an even bigger contract the next time around.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: The NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman started eight games last season before finishing on the injured reserve with a torn triceps. The Bears hope to bring back Tillman but might not be able to come up with a suitable offer.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer from the Packers last season, which might have been a sign that he preferred to play in a system that gave defensive linemen more freedom. After a disappointing season, his value has gone down, and as of last week, he was close to signing a one-year deal to return.

Cassel
Cassel
6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year deal with the Vikings on Friday, just before teams could start contacting his agent. He will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3. Young turned into one of the more disruptive players up front, making 47 tackles, recovering two fumbles and recording three sacks.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen’s time in Minnesota is likely over. He could come back as a situational pass-rusher on a reduced salary, but after making $14 million last season, Allen might head elsewhere for a bigger role and bigger paycheck.

McCown
10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: He proved he is capable of filling in for Jay Cutler in a pinch and is instrumental behind the scenes for nearly every skill player on the offense. It's not a slam dunk he will be back, and talks with the Bears haven't been especially productive.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Melton's representatives fully expect him to test the market in free agency because the Bears haven’t shown a ton of interest. Coming off a torn ACL, Melton probably won't command top dollar in the first wave of free agency.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Became strictly a return specialist for the Bears last season and is still one of the league's best at his position. Probably expects a payday similar to what he's gotten in the past.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Mathis signed with Detroit during the 2013 preseason and became one of the team's starting cornerbacks by the third week of the season. He played in 15 games, making 47 tackles and often drawing the opponent's top wide receiver.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: The 26-year-old cashed in on Sunday by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota. He should flourish in new coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: The 26-year-old was released by Detroit with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014. Has played in 65 games for Detroit over five seasons, with 328 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also had five sacks and four fumble recoveries.
The Chicago Bears' exclusive right to negotiate a contract with free agent defensive tackle Henry Melton expired Saturday once the league’s legal tampering period opened up in advance of Tuesday’s start of free agency, and as expected, several teams have expressed interest, according to an NFL source.

Melton
Melton, 27, is coming off surgery to repair his left ACL, and it’s likely the Bears were optimistically expecting somewhat of a soft market for the defensive tackle, who received $8.45 million in 2013 as the club’s franchise player. But early indications are that Melton will generate plenty of interest from several teams. It's worth noting that Melton has familiarity with Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith and Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli (even though the Cowboys likely aren't an option considering they are barely under the salary cap at this point). It's also important to mention that calls made by clubs once the negotiation window opens up typically result only in preliminary talks, as the action isn’t expected to seriously heat up until Sunday and Monday.

Since the end of the regular season, Melton and the Bears have engaged in some positive talks. But after the week of the NFL combine, the defensive tackle’s representatives fully expected their client to test the market based on further discussions with the club.

The Bears signed veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff on Wednesday night, but that move doesn’t diminish the team’s interest in bringing back Melton, who put together a Pro Bowl season in 2012, only to follow with a three-game 2013 campaign that ended with a torn left ACL against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Prior to Melton’s injury, Chicago ranked No. 8 against the run. After, the run defense nosedived to last.

But Melton’s knee isn’t expected to be a major concern for him going into next season, based on comments made by general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman.

“He’s in every day early,” Trestman said last month at the combine. “He’s got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you’ll see that he has been training and he has been working. He’s very focused. You’ll see that he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously, he’s in there working the knee. But he’s been on time. He’s working hard. I spoke to him yesterday for 30-45 minutes, and he’s committed to getting himself back, and he’s got work to do to get there. But he’s in a very good place right now, and we all understand the situation. We’ll see where it goes.”

The destination, whether it’s Chicago or elsewhere, will likely be known by the start of the new league year.

But surely, the Bears have contingency plans in place as they could seek out other options through free agency or use their first-round draft pick to bolster the position. A source with knowledge of the team’s thinking mentioned it would be wise to find out the market value for the players the club would like to re-sign once free agency actually opens, before moving too quickly and possibly overspending.

By doing that, the Bears run the risk of losing some of those free agents. Such a scenario could be playing out right now with Melton.

Free-agency primer: Bears

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Corey Wootton, Josh McCown.

Where they stand: The club informed Hester it won't be re-signing him for 2014, but the Bears are making a concerted effort to try to bring back Tillman. Still, there's a chance the economics won't work out, as Tillman could have other suitors willing to pay more than Chicago. The Bears did some work in re-signing free agents, such as defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Kelvin Hayden along with center Roberto Garza, to cap-friendly deals. Negotiations to re-sign McCown have moved along slowly, which means there's a chance the Bears could lose him if another team gives the backup an opportunity to win a starting job. There's interest from both sides in re-signing Williams, and talks are expected to continue over the weekend.

What to expect: At this point, it's unknown where Chicago's pro personnel department has rated its own unsigned free agents against what else is available on the market. So count on the Bears waiting to see what the market value for their own players is before moving to re-sign them, which is actually a smart move that will keep them from overpaying. The Bears aren't expected to overspend on big names in free agency, but general manager Phil Emery has been known in recent years to make a couple of surprise moves. The Bears would like to infuse youth on defense, but that could prove to be a pricey proposition in free agency for a team with limited cap space. They do have the flexibility to free up cash by cutting players such as Julius Peppers, or restructuring Jay Cutler's deal, which includes a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014.

Bears sign DE Trevor Scott

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
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The Chicago Bears signed veteran defensive end Trevor Scott to a one-year contract, the team announced on Thursday.

Scott has appeared in 76 games with 18 starts over six seasons with the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6-foot-5, 260 pound defensive end played in just four games and recorded three tackles for the Bucs last season.

Oakland’s six-round choice (No. 168 overall) in the 2008 NFL draft out of the University of Buffalo, Scott had five sacks for the Raiders his rookie, then registered a career-high seven sacks, 37 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss and 12 quarterback hits in 2009.

Scott also has 20 lifetime tackles on special teams.

The Bears view upgrading the defensive line as one of their top offseason priorities after the unit struggled last season due to injuries and inconsistent play.

Veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff agreed to terms on a new two-year deal on Wednesday, while fellow defensive linemen Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Corey Wootton and Landon Cohen are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the NFL’s new league year begins on March 11. The Bears signed former Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions defensive end Austen Lane to a one-year deal in February.

Another decision looming for the Bears on the defensive line is the roster status of eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers, 34 years old, is scheduled to count $18,183,333 against the Bears’ 2014 salary structure under the terms of his current contract and is fresh off a mediocre 2013 season.

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