When the offseason began, signs pointed to the Bears re-signing defensive tackle Henry Melton, likely to a one-year, prove-it contract coming off his season-ending torn ACL three games into the 2013 schedule. He was saying the right things and the organization was saying good things about his rehab work around Halas Hall.
Now it has become difficult to see Melton in Chicago for 2014. Not impossible, just difficult.
It’s the numbers. The Bears re-signed Jeremiah Ratliff, who projects as a starter. They re-signed Nate Collins, who has started at nose and three-technique. They have Stephen Paea going into his free-agency year under contract at nose.
As last season painfully demonstrated, it is impossible to have too many quality defensive linemen. Injuries are inevitable. But it is also impossible to keep six defensive tackles to provide insurance behind Collins, Paea and Ratliff, all of whom have battled injuries over the past couple years.
The problem with re-signing Melton would be a fourth tackle, three of whom would typically be active on game days. And that also creates a significant roster squeeze if — and when — the Bears draft a defensive tackle. Defensive tackles can play with impact sooner rather than later, sooner than offensive tackles.
Competition is expected, and nothing is guaranteed for Collins or even Paea for that matter. Adding Melton on top of a rookie who is expected to play is not depth; it’s clutter, and it gives Melton chances to play 2014 for a long-term contract that are will be minimal at best.
On Melton’s side, he scheduled visits with Dallas, Seattle, Minnesota and now the St. Louis Rams. The common reason for a player to make multiple visits in free agency is simply that he has not heard the number he wants.
He has not heard that number. It is becoming increasingly difficult to envision it coming from Chicago.