Unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Henry Melton's tour of NFL teams and his five-year stint with the Bears ended Tuesday night when he agreed to terms with the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year deal with a multiyear option.
If Melton is on the roster on the first day of the league year in 2015, it will trigger a three-year extension with guaranteed money.
Melton, drafted by the Bears in the fourth round in 2009 and voted to the Pro Bowl in 2012, played last season under the franchise tag of $8.45 million when he and the Bears could not agree on a long-term deal. But Melton suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee in Week 3 and finished the season with 5 tackles.
In search of a new home, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Melton visited Seattle and Minnesota in addition to Dallas but decided to reunite with former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who is the Cowboys' defensive coordinator.
Even before the deal was announced, Melton tweeted: "Thank you Chicago for the best 5 years of my life! I can't wait to begin the next chapter of my life. With a star on my helmet."
The Bears had not ruled out bringing back Melton, who had a combined 13 sacks in 2011 and '12, hoping he would return after establishing his worth in the free-agent market.
"We pretty much left it with Jordan (Woy), his agent that he was going to go through this process and when he got through it and he had a pretty good idea what his market is, we could talk at that time," Bears general manager Phil Emery said last week. "Of course, the clock's ticking."
Melton, who attended Grapevine High School in Texas and played for the Texas Longhorns, is being sued for more than $1 million by the manager of a Dallas-area sports bar who alleges that the defensive tackle bit him last December during a scuffle that preceded Melton's arrest for public intoxication and assault.
Melton, if he's healthy, will help fill a gaping hole for the Cowboys, even worse up front last season than the Bears -- who allowed the most rushing yards and the highest average gain per rush in the league. The Cowboys were last in total yards allowed and just slightly better than the Bears against the run.
Though the Bears have re-signed Nate Collins and former Cowboy Jeremiah Ratliff from last season, the only other tackle on the roster is Stephen Paea. And Collins played just five games last season before he also suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee. Ratliff missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from surgery for torn groin muscles.
With Melton out of the picture and Corey Wootton testing free agency, the Bears are expected to make defensive tackle a priority in May's draft.
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