Take heart, Cowboys fans. There is some good news this spring.
Littered amidst the exits of the few exceptional defensive players and the back surgery of your QB who has $42m in dead money on his deal if it doesn't work, is a move that might start turning this defense around.
The Cowboys signed Henry Melton last night to a deal that appears to be a 4-year deal worth $29m, but with only 1-year and between $4-5m guaranteed. The particulars of the deal would certainly be called unique and having as much to do with Melton's knee injury and his pending litigation in Grapevine (which also happens to be his hometown) as it does with his ability.
Let's get one thing straight, I have no idea what kind of a guy he is, and reports of him biting a night-club employee is somewhere between a red flag and another reason why professional athletes should do their drinking at their homes, but I am only here to discuss the football impacts of this signing and will leave the psychological profiles to the field of willing and capable writers.
But, when we sat here a year ago and saw the pending doom on the horizon, one of the pipe dreams that rolled down the hill was looking at the expiration of dominant defensive tackle Henry Melton at the end of the 2013 which would sync up perfectly with the expiration of Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer's deals.
Knowing the Cowboys affinity for players from the regional college football powers (if you are a Longhorn, Aggie, Sooner, Ok St Cowboy, Razorback, etc, the Cowboys have watched you closely on Saturdays - this theory is more than a running joke) and their transition to the Bears scheme under Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli, it all seemed to make sense that target #1 in the spring of 2014 would be Henry Melton. Unfortunately, the Bears, with no cap issues at all, would be smart enough to lock him down and make sure he plays his prime years in Chicago - not just his developmental years.
Well, if his goal was to play in his hometown with his hometown team in 2014, then the incidents of the 2013 season all played perfectly. Because I don't think for a second that Chicago was planning on letting him get away for nothing back in September. But, then his ACL happened which cost him the remainder of the season. I am sure if this was 1994 and we heard about an ACL, we would all be properly freaked, but the way the medical world has shown us that this is no longer a big deal and guys are often back in 8-10 months tells us he is fine - as have all of his exams during this free agency tour.
Then, in December, while unavailable to his team, he had an incident at a Grapevine night club (who knew?) and is going to owe someone a fair amount of money for doing something stupid that may or may not have involved his teeth. I imagine, in light of the Sam Hurd legal issues of 2013, nothing makes the Bears recoil like a nice mugshot and perhaps the conviction to not let this guy get away started to lose steam. ACL and arrest in his walk year? That is the difference between $40m and $4m. And while it can all be made back down the road, he made his bed and now must live in it.
However, if he wanted to play here, and I have no idea if that was his goal, then the waters parted magically to make that happen, because the Cowboys were never in the $40m game. But, $4m? OK, that can happen.
Especially if Jason Hatcher was going to be able to get $10m guaranteed and 4 years/$27m from Washington at the age of 32, right? If you told me I could replace a nice player like Hatcher with a 27-year old I actually like more at a savings or at least similar money, I would have jumped at the chance.
Losing DeMarcus Ware is obviously something you wished to avoid. However, if your plan was to go get Melton, find a short term option on the edge like Anthony Spencer or Jared Allen on a very easy deal, and then consider a 1st or 2nd rounder on yet another havoc causer up front, then you had a reasonable plan in the offseason to rebuild this thing in just a few months.
Let's talk about Melton the player. For me, he is a very versatile player who can do a lot of things. In fact, if you go back to his 2009 draft, he was considered a candidate to move to OLB in a 3-4 and was sort of a find because his college team-mate Brain Orakpo was getting attention out of Austin. They would look at Orakpo on film and Melton, despite playing only a year at DE in college, jumped off the screen and on to the radar.
He was just so quick inside and his ability to chase down plays is exactly what Marinelli and Kiffin stress in their defensive line meetings (click here to read more on that). Look below at #69 who is lined up as the 3-technique and ultimately chases down Russell Wilson in the open field - something that is notable for a defensive tackle:
Now, one thing about Melton should be stated. I think this is obvious with just about every player in NFL history, but based on the attitude of the masses with regards to DeMarcus Ware's 2013, I figure I better state it clearly: Supporting cast matters! Below, you will see Melton throw a center (Geoff Hangartner) out of the way on his way to nailing Cam Newton. Great to see. However, notice that he has Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Israel Idonije, Shea McClellan, and Major Wright all occupying blockers on this play, too. While that is not the 1985 Bears, the 2012 Bears still had some decent personnel at times. And that matters. Melton is not doing this himself. So, to add only him and to clean your hands off and act like this is all fixed is ridiculous. I know most of you know this, but sometimes, we need to be careful as to assume it is clear to all. DeMarcus Ware can still play and you will see what he will do with Von Miller on his opposite flank.
Melton is really good against the run as a penetrating force. In fact, there are very few DTs in the NFL that did better than he did in 2012. He is quick and dangerous and gets to plays in the backfield on a regular basis. He shoots that gap and isolates guards in space and beats them regularly. He is a very good player in this setting.
However, he is certainly not big enough to anchor when someone wants to clear him out like Minnesota's Matt Kalil here. This is why 3-technique looks for quick and penetrating, not stand your ground types. You can't have everything there and what Melton has in quickness, he does not have in stoutness. That is fine - your DE and LBs need to clean up a zone play like this. But, it is something to be aware of.
We will certainly visit about what this does for the draft and what this does about targeting a 3-technique which has admittedly been the top priority for 15 months now. They have one and they have a very good one. This is a very nice piece of business because the risk factor is incredibly low if they do not like how things go in 2014, they walk away with no dead money and no regrets. I don't know how this can be positioned as anything but a fantastic signing.
Will it make them a power on defense? Of course not. In fact, losing Hatcher and adding Melton likely can at best be a "break even" from a season to season perspective. But, getting younger and replenishing on good contracts is what this is all about. They still have time to do more in free agency (I think Spencer can be had at a very similar price on a 1-year deal) and then go invest in defensive help up high in the draft. Add that to getting Bruce Carter and Morris Claiborne up to their skill levels (which is what coaching is all about) and you can see how the Cowboys should have a reasonable bounce back defensively in 2014.
This is a very nice piece to add and to think it would have never been possible had he not had his incident in Grapevine sure puts an odd spin on the arrest. The Cowboys got their top offseason priority target and they didn't pay much to do it?