Melton chose to sign the team's Franchise Player designation in the offseason instead of a long-term contract. The idea made sense, play one more year at a high salary and parlay his value into an even more lucrative deal in 2014.
Instead, Melton is out for the season with a torn ACL, and his future with the Chicago Bears is in doubt.
The question for the Bears is simple. How do you replace a Pro-Bowl interior lineman?
Well, it won't be easy. Chicago could slide its starters around, moving outside lineman Corey Wooton into Melton's place, and leave second-year rising star Shea McClellin on the outside. Wooton has played inside before, but the Bears have seemed very happy having him in a rotation with McClellin as outside pass rushers. Both players have been disruptive, and it's unlikely the Bears will want to risk losing that production.
Nate Collins is another possibility. In his fourth year Collins has proven to be a dependable option for the Bears, registering seven total tackles so far. He doesn't offer as much explosive potential as Melton, but its doubtful the team will find any replacement to duplicate that level of performance.
Instead, the Bears will need solid, if not spectacular play from the interior line, and a dominant presence from both Wooton and McClellin to go along with a resurgence from Julius Peppers.
Peppers is the key to the Bears' defense. If he returns to his dominant self, the Bears will be able to withstand the loss of Melton without a significant drop-off in production.
J.P. has yet to record a sack so far in 2013. That will have to change soon, to help replace the six sacks Melton racked up last year from the inside of the line.
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