defensive tackle Henry Melton
was forced to leave the game on a cart after injuring his leg. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
The Chicago Bears lost Henry Melton, the anchor of their defensive line, to a potentially serious knee injury Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
Melton was rushing Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger on a fourth-down pass attempt when his left leg planted awkwardly and then appeared to give out, sending Melton crumpling to the turf. He was down on the field for several minutes before being loaded onto a cart. (Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday that Melton suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.)
Nate Collins took Melton's place at tackle, but any extended absence from Melton would be a significant blow to the Bears' aggressive defense. Melton was a Pro Bowler in 2012 and notched 13 combined sacks over the past two seasons.
The Bears placed the franchise tag on him this offseason, which carried a price tag of $8.45 million for 2013. Melton expressed his hope of receiving a long-term deal, but eventually signed the tag tender, meaning he could not renegotiate his contract until after the 2013 season.
It almost goes without saying, then, that a long-term injury would be a hit to Melton's wallet. The 26-year-old was a fourth-round pick of the Bears in 2009 and his rookie contract just expired after 2012, meaning this past summer was his first chance to cash in with a lucrative deal. And while $8.45 million is nothing to scoff at, his injury may serve as another reminder why players so aggressively pursue new or reworked deals at almost every turn.