Monday, the two week period where teams can begin using the franchise tag opened. The Chicago Bears have a few options, but are any of them worth paying such a high price?
One of the biggest names that comes up in reference to the Bears’ franchise tag is 27-year old defensive tackle Henry Melton. Last season, Melton was sidelined for the majority of the year with a torn ACL that he suffered on September 22nd against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, a healthy Melton arguably changes the outcome of the abysmal defensive performance Chicago gave a year ago.
In 2012, Melton earned a trip to the Pro Bowl after posting a career-high 44 combined tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles. A former running back at the University of Texas, Melton is a big, strong, quick and athletic defensive tackle that the Bears’ defense missed greatly last year.
The problem, though, is that the Bears’ current cap state is a tight one. The team would have to pay Melton upwards of around $9 million in order to slap him with the franchise tag. With so many guys that need a new deal, it’s tough to see them using it on Melton. In fact, according to ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright, the team will probably pass on using the tag altogether.
Two other options that have been rumored to be in the franchise tag discussion are veteran cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza. Both have been huge parts of the Bears for a number of years, and both will also become free agents without a new deal.
Chicago already used quite a bit of money to re-sign a few guys like quarterback Jay Cutler and cornerback Tim Jennings, among others. The interesting thing, here, is that some thought Chicago could only afford to bring back one of their free-agent-to-be cornerbacks. Jennings has his new contract, but Tillman could still enter free agency.
Would the Bears be making a mistake in refraining from using the franchise tag? To me, I do not believe so. Both Tillman and Melton are great players when healthy, but both endured injuries last season and remain question marks going forward. Chicago has a lot of positions that need upgrading on defense, and forking over a lot of dough just to use the franchise tag doesn’t make much sense for them.
Teams have until March 3rd to make a decision on whether or not to use the tag, but as I said earlier, it is likely that they will pass. The best-case scenario would be that they bring back Melton on a deal that is a win-win for both sides. It might be tough to do, but the market for Melton is up in the air after coming off a season-ending injury.
As for Tillman and Garza, I have a feeling that both of them will return. Tillman, for one, has guaranteed that he retires a Bear. That has to speak well for Bears fans who would hate to see him elsewhere.
Will Chicago surprise us and decide to use the tag in the near future? I certainly do not think so, but we will find out shortly.