Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton made $565,000 last season, the final year of a four-year contract he signed after being drafted in 2009. As it happens, 2012 was Melton's best season yet, developing into one of the league's most disruptive 3-techniques, so he's got plenty of leverage for the next step in his career.
Melton and the Bears were unable to work out a long-term extension, so it is more than likely that the team will place a franchise tag on him for 2013, which would pay him $8.3 million. Brad Biggs noted that this would mean a large amount of the team's cap space would then be taken up by only four players:
"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."
Biggs also notes that Tillman is entering the final year of his contract, and that extending him would significantly lower that cap hit. But one would have to wonder how many years the Bears would be willing to give Tillman, who will be entering his 11th season in 2013.
With all of that said, nothing has happened yet, and the Bears will approach this one step at a time. Step one is undoubtably locking Melton down before Free Agency begins a little less than a month from now.