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Henry Melton move a good start

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday agreed to a deal with defensive tackle Henry Melton, a player they wanted and needed.

It's a good move, the kind of smart maneuver the Cowboys haven't made often enough over the past few years.

Think about it, the Cowboys essentially replaced soon-to-be 32-year-old defensive tackle Jason Hatcher with a 27-year-old Melton.

And if they spent less on Melton, who agreed to a one-year deal with a three-year club option, than the Redskins did on Hatcher, then it was an even better move.

Hatcher was tremendous last season with 11.5 sacks and a litany of other big plays, which is why he earned his first Pro Bowl selection.

But the worst thing you can do as a general manager in today's NFL is pay age. The game is too violent for that. So the Cowboys, as they should have, let Hatcher walk.

He signed a four-year, $27.5 million deal with the Washington Redskins, with $10 million guaranteed.

Melton also has Pro Bowl pedigree. He was a dominant player in 2012 with 32 tackles and six sacks. In 2011, he had seven sacks.

Only a few free agents come without questions. Melton is no different. You have to wonder why Chicago let Melton leave a year after putting a franchise tag on him and paying him $8.45 million.

Did they not like his work ethic? His asking price? Melton didn't play that well in the first three games of last season before tearing a knee ligament that forced him to miss the final 13 games; but did that erase all the good things he did in 2012?

Just so you know, the Cowboys are sure Melton will be ready for the start of training camp -- based on the examinations he received Monday during his visit to the club's Valley Ranch training complex.

Perhaps the Bears were just tight against the salary cap and let him go -- much like Dallas did with DeMarcus Ware -- because they didn't have much of a chance to sign him.

Not that Dallas cares.

Melton fills a huge need for the Cowboys. He's expected to be an attacking, disruptive player on the Cowboys' defensive line. To play the Tampa 2 defensive scheme properly, you need stars at defensive tackle, weak side linebacker and safety.

The Cowboys hope they have one spot filled.

They still need another defensive tackle and a defensive end.

Dallas could use the draft to fill the need or they could sign defensive end Jared Allen, who visited the club Tuesday.

Allen, who turns 32 before the season starts, had 11.5 sacks last season. It's hard to believe he's going to settle for less than the $20 million in guaranteed money Ware received from Denver last week.

However, it would be dumb for Dallas to give him that kind of money. If it was going to do that, then the Cowboys should have kept Ware, who was released last week. If Allen is going to take less money at this point of his career, he should go to a winner that has an opportunity to make a championship run.

We all know that's not happening around here any time soon.

Making Monte Kiffin a defensive coordinator emeritus and promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator was the first step in fixing the Cowboys' defense.

Acquiring Melton was the second step.

This defense gave up 415.3 yards per game last season and allowed more than 30 points in seven different games last season.

The Cowboys need Melton to regain his 2012 form, when he was one of the NFL's most disruptive players. The former high school and college running back at Texas has a low center of gravity and a quick first step that makes him difficult to block.

Much work remains for Marinelli to make this defense serviceable.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett are trying to rebuild this team without having one of those disastrous 3-13 seasons, which is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Usually, a franchise must bottom out before it can rebuild.

Jerry and Garrett are trying to do it before 34-year-old Tony Romo, who has had two back surgeries in the past year, is too old to be the quarterback.

For now, the Cowboys are stuck in football purgatory. They seem as far away from contending for a Super Bowl than at any time since the end of the 2002 season, when they were finishing their third consecutive 5-11 season.

Melton alone won't change that, but it's a move in the right direction.