Listening to newly signed defensive tackle Henry Melton tell it, he was not a Dallas Cowboys fan as a kid growing up in Grapevine.
His favorite team was whichever one his uncle, Ray Crockett, played for during a 14-year NFL career with the Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.
Crockett, now his nephew’s adviser and agent along with Jordan Woy, believes there’s a little more to the story, which was evident when he dropped Melton off to sign a free-agent contract at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch headquarters on Wednesday.
“He was grinning from ear to ear,” Crockett said. “I believe he rooted for the Cowboys when my team wasn’t playing, and there is something about a local kid playing at home. I’m happy for him.”
There is no question that Melton, 27, is happy to be coming home. This is where he wants to be long-term — from the contract he signed, to playing in front of friends and family, to getting home-cooked meals from his mother, who lives near the Cowboys’ practice facility.
“Being close to home and around my family is a huge part of it,” said Melton, who played at Grapevine High School and the University of Texas. “I get to save money on a lot of flights. It’s going to be fun. My mom’s house is 10 minutes away from the facility.”
Melton played his first five seasons with the Chicago Bears. He drew interest from the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders before signing with the Cowboys.
According to a source, his prove-it deal breaks down like this: a $1 million signing bonus and a $1.25 million base salary in 2014. He also gets $78,125 each week he’s on the 46-man roster, up until $1.75 million. He can earn another $1.5 million in incentives in 2014. If he is on the roster the first day of the 2015 league year, his $9 million base salary is guaranteed and triggers a three-year extension that includes base salaries of $7.5 million in 2016 and 2017. He has a chance to make as much as $29 million over the life of the four-year deal.
He wasn’t offered big money up front by anyone because of a knee injury that ended his 2013 season after three games.
Melton believes he will be ready for the start of training camp and will be motivated to get back to his Pro Bowl form of 2012.
“I know the anterior cruciate ligament [injury] scares a lot of teams,” Melton said. “A lot of people come back great. That’s something I’m trying to do. I have to buckle down and train my butt off.”
Melton believes he can get back to dominant form because of the presence of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Marinelli held the same job with the Bears during Melton’s first four seasons.
Marinelli nurtured Melton into a Pro Bowler in Chicago and was the point man on Melton’s recruiting visit to Dallas early this week.
“He’s a great guy,” Melton said of Marinelli. “I am excited to play for him.
“He genuinely cares about you as a person — not just what you can do for him on the field. Of course, he cares about that. But he actually does care about you off the field.”
Melton has no doubts he will be able to thrive at the all-important three-technique tackle position in Marinelli’s defense.
“The under tackle in Marinelli’s scheme is just very disruptive,” Melton said. “It’s fun. Not a lot of people can do it. You have to be very athletic to make plays while doing it. You’re never wrong when you’re trying to rush the passer and you’re never wrong when you’re being physical. It’s something that I know and I trust and I believe in when I signed here.”
Melton said he has no problem being the focus of a defense that finished last in the NFL in 2013 and lacks any other proven stars on the defense line. He is ready to be the linchpin of the 2014 unit.
“That’s what the position demands,” Melton said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter. I was part of a great defense [in Chicago]. I had a lot of Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers on my team, but I still have a bull’s-eye playing that position. For the defense to be successful, the three-technique has to do his job and be very disruptive.”
Crockett, a Dallas native who never got to play for his hometown team, said it’s a great opportunity for Melton and the Cowboys.
“The deal will work out if we perform,” Crockett said. “If we don’t perform, it is what it is. He will welcome the challenge of being at home where he can get mom’s home cooking, knowing that we are going to be at every game. There is no replacement for that.
“And if Henry is healthy, he is one of the best ones out there. If Henry plays well, its going to be great for the Cowboys. It’s going to be great for the city and great for Henry.”