Franchise tag season begins on Monday, and for the Bears, that means a potentially expensive defense, as Henry Melton is so far the most likely player to be tagged. Brad Biggs listed out the ramifications of a potential tag on Melton yesterday on the Tribune site, pointing out the Bears could have $40 million tied up in four defensive players in an NFL where the salary cap hardly budges.
Carving out $8.3 million for Melton will give the Bears a considerable amount of their salary cap in four defensive players. The Bears currently have $31.8 million in cap room devoted to three defensive players -- end Julius Peppers ($16,383,333), cornerback Charles Tillman ($8 million) and linebacker Lance Briggs ($7,416,670). Adding Melton, the team's fourth Pro Bowl defensive player, at $8.3 million would push the cap hit for the four players to $40.1 million -- almost 33 percent of the team's space.
That sounds like a pretty hefty chunk of change. And if the Bears don't tag him, instead letting him hit free agency, they could lose a pretty good, young, pass-rushing defensive tackle.
That being said, the Bears tagged Matt Forte last season with the end result being a four year contract with $17.1 million guaranteed, or what would have been two consecutive franchise tags spread over four seasons. Tagging Melton likely wouldn't be the endgame either - an $8.3 million cap hit is hard enough to absorb instantly - but he'll still be a fairly expensive sign, especially for a guy that considers himself the best 4-3 defensive tackle in the league. If $8.3 million is the benchmark, what will his eventual cap hit be for this team?
So it's clear the Bears have to free up some extra money to retain Melton - would Peppers restructure his contract to reduce his cap hit? Would Tillman take an extension? Maybe on the offensive side, would Jay Cutler or Brandon Marshall take an extension to reduce their cap hit? In your minds, what's the other step to absorb a Henry Melton cap hit?