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Henry Melton, Chris Johnson now free agents as Cowboys, Jets decline options

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The dominoes for secondary free agency have started to fall, as the Cowboys and Jets have declined options on DT Henry Melton and RB Chris Johnson, respectively. Melton is of more note to Seahawks fans, because he was a free agent that Seattle reportedly courted pretty hard during last year's offseason.

Melton was in Seattle briefly meeting with the team, and here at Field Gulls we dubbed it "Melton Watch" as we waited to see if the Hawks would refuse to let the 6'3, 290 pound defensive lineman leave the building without a contract. Ultimately, they did, and he signed a 4-year, $27.5M deal with the Cowboys. That said, the deal in Dallas was, more or less, a one-year "prove it" deal, and only the first year was guaranteed. After that, it became a three-year, $24 million option, and the Cowboys declined to pick up that option, making Melton a free agent.

Melton had 7.0 sacks in 2011, 6.0 in 2012, and began to emerge as one of the better interior pass rushers in the NFL in Chicago as a three-technique defensive tackle. He tore his ACL during the 2013 season playing on a franchise tag, though, and then was arrested around Christmas time at a bar. These two factors really hurt his value on the open market last year, and so it came down to Seattle and Dallas (it sounds like). Melton chose the Cowboys.

He would've had to have balled out this year to earn that $24M option in Dallas, but he did not. His numbers ended up being pretty solid -- his five sacks were second on the team, and he knocked down four passes -- but as the Cowboys see him as more of a rotational player on the defensive line, $9M in 2015 was too rich for their blood.

Still, even at 28, Melton is a good player, on paper. Prior to tearing his ACL and missing much of the 2013 season, Melton was PFF's #1 defensive tackle in run stop percentage in 2012, and finished fifth in their pass pressure percentage. PFF graded him well in 2014, and his style of play is something I could see the Seahawks liking in their scheme once again. He's a former college running back and is highly athletic at 6'3, 295. He comps somewhat to Clinton McDonald and Jordan Hill as a disruptive force on the interior, but is taller than those two so adds a little bit of length to knock down passes.

With Melton's rotational role in 2014, which ended prior to the playoffs with a bone bruise in his knee, I'm guessing the veteran defensive tackle won't be a big-money type of guy in free agency. He may even look to do one more "prove it" deal this year, hoping to get healthy, play well, then cash in next year when his value increases. It will likely be his last shot at it.

The Seahawks will obviously have some choices to make on the defensive line, and it's a spot at which they've been active for in free agency. Tony McDaniel is $3.625M cap hit in 2015 so if the Seahawks decide that Melton (or someone else) provides an upgrade on the interior there, they could release McDaniel and save $3M against the cap. Considering Melton's cap hit in Dallas was $2.35M in 2014, it's something they may consider. McDaniel and Melton aren't necessarily the same type of player -- McDaniel is one of Seattle's "big heavies/war daddies" -- but there will almost surely be some shuffling on the DL this offseason as Kevin Williams ponders retirement and the Seahawks explore options in free agency.

As for Chris Johnson, while I don't think the Seahawks will be suitors, it will be interesting to see where the former rushing champion ends up going.