You’re the general manager for an established NFL team in a major Midwest market, on a lake, and you have a dilemma. You make the call.
First, the context: Bill Polian, architect of the great 1990’s Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts teams a decade later, and current ESPN Insider, stated the very, very obvious regarding Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton during a pre-free-agency conference call this week:
"Typically, fellas who are coming off of pretty serious injuries, that doesn’t bode well in terms of top dollar in free agency.”
Melton probably didn’t need a six-time NFL executive of the year for that bit of insight as he, Nate Collins and Charles Tillman are on final approach to free agency, coming off season-ending injuries. Melton is in the process of rehabbing and recovering from October surgery to repair a torn ACL and “as a general rule you don’t even begin to think about pursuing a player unless the doctors say, ‘Go ahead,’” Polian added.
That Melton’s knee injury will hurt his marketability is hardly breaking news and was given since it occurred in the Pittsburgh game. The real question is not even how much, but rather what the Bears and others will do with a player who is still some weeks away from working out without issues.
Melton remains a fit for the Bears’ scheme, a 295-pound quick tackle in a single-gap system. But “it’s always, always, always colored by the injury,” Polian said.
Here’s the dilemma:
If Melton was a good college defensive lineman, but coming into the draft after a season-ending knee injury his final season, would he be worth the risk for a first- or second-round draft choice? Melton was a fourth-rounder in 2009 as an end coming out of Texas.
The Bears hit with defensive tackle Tommie Harris with the 14th overall pick in 2004. Harris had suspect knees and ultimately it was knee issues that shortened his career, although not before three Pro Bowls and a stint as one of the dominant three-techniques in the NFL.
They were not as fortunate with offensive tackle Chris Williams as another 14th pick (2008), who had back problems that surfaced when he became a Bear.
Defensive end Corey Wootton dropped in the 2010 draft (fourth round) because of knee concerns arising out of a 2009 injury. Wootton has developed into a solid defensive lineman, one the Bears hope to re-sign despite January hip surgery.
With major needs on the defensive line, the Melton question looms as one of the biggest even with Jeremiah Ratliff re-signed. The Bears have been pleased with Melton’s commitment to rehab and now have to decide on their risk tolerance.