The biggest question surrounding defensive tackle Henry Melton since the Dallas Cowboys acquired him has been, when will he be ready to go? Right now there’s no rush, but the timeline might change as the regular season gets closer. The Cowboys must continue to practice caution with Melton, because their future depends on it.
The Cowboys gave Melton a contract that is loaded with incentives that will pay him a lot more if he gets back on the field and proves to be productive. His $1.25 million base salary can balloon to as much as $5 million. If he proves to be everything the Cowboys wanted, he could make as much as $29 million over the next four seasons.
The Cowboys used a similar model for defensive end Anthony Spencer‘s contract. A deeper look at his contract can be viewed here.
The ideal target for all parties would be training camp. It’s vital that Melton gets back fairly soon, because he needs his knee to be able to get used to the contact and pressure the NFL season will put on it. Furthermore, serious knee injuries, like Melton had last year, involve a heavy mental component.
We’ve seen players like Adrian Peterson tear their ACL and be back to a high level in eight or nine months. Then there’s the case of Derrick Rose who still isn’t healthy after having surgery on his torn ACL in May 2012.
Those scenarios have to be going through Melton’s mind. He must listen to his body; it’s for his own good, as well as the Cowboys. If he’s always questioning if his knee will hold up, then he may never be the same player.
When asked about his progress and return, Melton said,
“Every week I get stronger and better. We’re just focusing on getting my knee as strong as possible and aiming for preseason and all that. I feel like I could go out there and do some things during these OTAs. It’s something we talked about before, but we’re going to focus on training camp and get ready for the season.”
This plan must be followed. No player can come back Week 1 of the season and produce. He needs to be involved in meaningful practices, and preseason games to give himself a mental boost. It’s one thing to run on the knee and feel good, but it’s entirely different to feel comfortable playing against opponents who are coming after you.
There shouldn’t be any hurry on getting Melton back on the field. The Cowboys knew it was a risk signing Melton, so they shouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t fully healthy right away. The present and future outlook of the Cowboys’ defense may depend on how this situation plays out. There’s no such thing as being too patient or cautious for both parties involved.