Bears lose Henry Melton, Earl Bennett, get Israel Idonije back
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter March 18, 2014 9:52PM
Chicago, 12/02/12 The Bears Henry Melton stops the Seahawks Russell Wilson from getting outside the pocket during the third quarter at Soldier Field December 2, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
- Henry Melton leaves Bears, joins Cowboys
- Israel Idonije agrees to return to Bears
- Bears cut WR Earl Bennett
- Bears shore up at safety
- Bears reach deal with Sherrick McManis
- LATEST BEARS NEWS, UPDATES
Updated: March 19, 2014 11:57AM
Defensive tackle Henry Melton agreed to a deal with the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, hours after wide receiver Earl Bennett chose to be released from the Bears rather than take a pay cut.
Add them to free agent Devin Hester, new Green Bay Packer Julius Peppers and Josh McCown the Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and the Bears’ offseason has been short on sentimentality.
At least one player thinks otherwise, though. Defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who played his first nine seasons in Chicago before joining the Detroit Lions last year, is returning to the Bears.
Idonije signed a one-year deal worth $955,000 that will count for only $570,000 against the Bears’ salary cap.
‘‘It feels like I’m coming back home,’’ he told the team’s website, ‘‘as far as playing football for a club that has been near and dear to my heart, and has been part of my life for a decade.’’
Idonije won’t replace the performance of Melton, a free agent who chose his home-state Cowboys over the Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Melton’s deal is for one year with a three-year team option, according to the Cowboys’ website.
‘‘Thank you Chicago for the best 5 years of my life!’’ Melton wrote on Twitter. ‘‘I can’t wait to begin the next chapter of my life . . . With a star on my helmet.’’
The Bears let Melton — who tore his knee in Week 3 last season as their franchise-tagged player — assess his market value. And while general manager Phil Emery warned last week that Melton was running out of time, outside interest trumped the Bears’ anyway.
Though the 33-year-old Idonije doesn’t fit the Bears’ stated goal to get younger, his size and versatility match the plan of attack for a rebuilt defensive line. The 6-6, 275-pounder can rush from the end spot and, on passing downs, move inside to tackle. In 347 snaps last season for the Lions, mostly from the left end, he had 11 tackles and half a sack.
He’ll find one fewer familiar face in the locker room. Bennett took a $1 million pay cut to stay with the Bears last year, catching 32 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns. He didn’t want to take a cut again, sources confirmed to the Sun-Times.
His departure will save $2.45 million of cap space. Second-year wideout Marquess Wilson and new signee Domenik Hixon will vie for the third receiver spot.
Competitors across the ball will be many, too, after the Bears brought their total free-agent safety additions to four Tuesday. Craig Steltz, who started one game for the injured Major Wright last season, returns on a one-year contract. Another LSU alum, Danny McCray, joins him on a one-year deal.
McCray started 10 games for the 2012 Cowboys and took a pay cut to stay in Dallas last season. In 15 games, the 26-year-old had eight tackles on defense and eight on special teams.
From 2009 to ’12, he played under special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, now with the Bears. All four of the Bears’ safety additions in the last week — Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, Steltz and McCray — can play special teams, too.
‘‘We’re going to keep working the roster to improve the level of competition so we get better as a team,’’ Emery said last week. ‘‘We’re definitely going to look at the safety position, continue to look at it extensively in the [free agency] market and the draft and post-draft.’’