Bears’ Trestman, Emery dance around Henry Melton, Brian Urlacher questions
BY SEAN JENSEN email@example.com February 21, 2013 10:11PM
Chicago, 12/02/12 The Bears Brian Urlacher meets the Seahawks Marshawn Lynch in the backfield in the first quarter at Soldier Field December 2, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 23, 2013 6:40AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery chose their words carefully Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
They avoided declarative statements and danced around most questions about specific players. They dodged contract-related questions about Jay Cutler, Henry Melton and Brian Urlacher and emphasized that they fiercely protect their rankings of unrestricted free agents and incoming rookies like Heinz does its recipe for ketchup.
“There’s going to be certain information that we’re not going to divulge because it’s a very competitive business,” Emery said. “I think it’s the most competitive business in the world, the NFL.
“So there’s going to be certain things we’re not going to talk about in terms of how we rank players — our team, the UFA market and the college players.”
Rest assured, though, the Bears’ evaluation is far, far along, and the team’s 50 staffers will have clear-cut responsibilities at the combine, which ends Tuesday.
The team’s medical staff will focus on determining the health of the rookie class; the scouting and coaching staffs will determine the measurables of players and interview them; and Emery and Cliff Stein, the vice president of football administration, will visit with a slew of agents in the coming days. The agents for free agents Melton and Urlacher surely will be among them.
The Bears also will visit with players who don’t have expiring deals but could be candidates to get extensions that provide the team with immediate salary-cap relief and secure their services for more years.
The most obvious options are cornerback Charles Tillman (scheduled to make just under $8.5 million in the final year of his deal) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall (signed through 2014 at $9 million per year).
Since becoming GM last year, Emery has put a premium on treating players with respect, Johnny Knox being a recent example.
There has been overwhelming interest in the future of Urlacher, the face of the franchise. But his contract — which paid him $7.5 million in base salary and another $500,000 in a workout bonus in 2012 — is expiring, and he’ll need to take a pay cut to remain on the team.
The question is how much, something that Emery and Urlacher’s agent are sure to discuss in the coming days.
Trestman and Emery have been respectful of Urlacher, and their comments suggest the door is open for his return.
“He’ll never be slighted,” Emery said. “I have too much respect for him.”
The Bears, like all teams, will determine the value of Urlacher and consider possible replacements via free agency or the draft.
There’s no better environment than the combine to gauge the marketplace.
As for Melton, Emery was non-committal on whether he’d use the franchise tag.
“We’ll work through that situation, obviously,” Emery said. “We’ll be talking to Henry, and when we come to a conclusion, everybody will know.”
The Bears aren’t expected to overhaul the 4-3 defense Lovie Smith implemented, and Melton is a central player in that scheme with his unique combination of size and speed. In the last two years, Melton has had 13 sacks. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season.
And he’s only 26.
Trestman called Melton a great asset.
“He’s a valuable member of our football team,” Trestman said. “Every day, we learn more about putting our football team together, and he’s certainly a big part of that.”