Can the Dallas Cowboys Afford to Keep DT Henry Melton?

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Nov 2, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) on the sidelines during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In an offseason of roster purging, that watched Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher leave, the Cowboys made only one splash this year by signing DT Henry Melton.

Melton, recovering from a 2013 season ending knee injury, chose to re-join former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in Dallas. The contract agreed to was heralded by many (yours truly included) as a rare win-win agreement that offered low risk and high reward.

The contract was structured to pay the former Pro Bowler a modest sum in 2014 (a little over $2M) with game by game incentive bonuses along the way. Following the incentive-based first year, is a club option that would play the 3-technique tackle quite handsomely over the next 3 seasons.

The logic was simple – If Melton failed to regain his pre-injury form, Dallas wasn’t on the hook for a long-term or costly contract. If he did regain form, Dallas would have to pony up top dollar to retain him, or let him depart in free agency to sign a lucrative contract elsewhere.

Nov 9. 2014; UNITED KINGDOM; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) is pressured by Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) in the second quarter in the NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

10 games into the 2014 season, it’s becoming quite clear that Melton is regaining his form and is now, without question, the best defensive linemen on the Cowboys’ roster. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Melton ranks as the 11th best DT in the NFL. With only 284 snaps under his belt, he has accumulated 5 sacks, 4 QB hits, 16 hurries, and 2 batted passes.

At 28 years old, the Texas native would be a useful part of the re-building Dallas defense.

But can the Cowboys afford to keep him?

If the Cowboys pick up all player options next season, they are projected to be right up against the salary cap in 2015, and still need to find a way to re-sign their own free agents. Check out: 2015 Dallas Cowboys’ Free Agents.

Chances are the Cowboys will be restructuring deals and cutting some expensive and under-performing players. Read: Death and Taxes here for a breakdown of a couple cuts to be made.

According to Spotrac.com, if Melton is on the roster for the 1st day of the 2015 NFL year, the Cowboys will be on the hook for 3 years/$24M. Considering he’s on pace for a 10 sack season as a DT, that’s a pretty fair deal for both parties…as long as the money is available.

With $9M due in year one of the 3 year team option, the Cowboys may need to restructure Melton’s deal to push the money down the road. This act isn’t exactly fiscally responsible behavior but it would free money to sign free agents Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Rolando McClain, and/or any of the other many free agents in Big D.

Henry Melton has been a phenomenal success on this defense, and the Cowboys control his rights if they decide to exercise their club option. He won’t be cheap for long so this is one more thing the Cowboys must consider when re-signing their many players for next season. Melton is player they need to keep.

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