Finally, the Dallas Cowboys got their man.
Or one of them, anyway. Though he left town without signing a contract, Henry Melton tweeted yesterday that he will indeed be joining the Dallas D-line next season.
This is great news for a team that has been depleted rather than replenished in free agency so far. DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher already have new allegiances, while Anthony Spencer is still available but has visited the Redskins and Giants.
It’s not inconceivable that the Cowboys will bring Spencer back, but now they won’t feel nearly as pressured to do so. Many were calling Melton the best player still available after the initial wave of free-agent signings, a potential steal whose ACL tear would bring down his cost just in time for his prime years.
A lot is riding on Melton’s left knee. He played only three games for the Bears last year, and when he was in the lineup Chicago boasted one of the league’s elite rush defenses. With Melton gone, the Bears slipped down the rankings and finished 32nd—dead last—in rush defense, allowing 2,583 yards, or 161.4 yards per game.
This is the risk the Cowboys are taking. A healthy Melton could force teams to beat the ‘Boys through the air, creating one-dimensional, predictable offenses. But take Melton off the field, and the Cowboys defense starts to look an awful lot like last year’s, minus Jason Hatcher, which no one wants to see.
Thankfully, Melton’s contract takes all this into account. The first year of the deal is worth up to $5 million, a figure Melton could likely earn with playing-time incentives. If Melton stays on the field and the team wants to bring him back, the contract turns into a four-year deal worth about $8 million per year after 2014. $9 million of the contract’s last three years would be guaranteed.
Incredibly, Dallas has poached a top free agent with a very team-friendly, cap-friendly contract. Melton obviously has faith in his ability to stay healthy and earn the rest of his deal.
The X factor in this signing was probably Rod Marinelli. Marinelli helped Melton earn his first Pro Bowl bid in 2012, meaning the two already know they work well together.
Marinelli’s new role as defensive coordinator combined with Jerry Jones’s inexplicable power to close deals made this an easy decision for Melton. It’s even a homecoming of sorts—Melton is from North Texas, attended Grapevine High School and was nine years old when the Cowboys won their last Super Bowl.
A sold 3-technique is one of the most important parts of this Marinelli defense, and now he has one. I don’t expect any more flashy signings from the Cowboys this offseason, as the draft is now 50 days away and most quality players are off the market.
Bill Polian put it succinctly on SportsCenter last week.
“There are no difference-makers in free agency,” he said. “You’re paying Nieman Marcus prices for Target.”
Indeed, if Melton is still on the roster when 2015 begins, Dallas will be paying him like a Pro-Bowl defensive tackle. But there’s a pretty good chance that Melton will in fact finish this season as a Pro-Bowl defensive tackle.
Sure, it’s just as likely that the team’s injury problems will bite Melton and he’ll be released after just one year. But by signing him to such a low-risk deal, the Cowboys have ended their run of inactivity this offseason and finally attempted to bring home a game-changing player on a reasonable deal.
Count me in the minority, but I like the way this offseason is going.
Check out isportsweb.com/nfl-news/dallas-cowboys/ for all your Dallas Cowboys news and analysis.