IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys agreed to terms with defensive tackle Henry Melton on Tuesday evening, according to sources.
The contract is reportedly a one-year deal with a club option for three more, depending on Melton's performance in 2014. The price figures to be a bit lower than expected for one of the league's top defensive tackles, as Melton missed the majority of 2013 with an ACL injury. Financial details have not been disclosed, but Melton's price tag would increase if he is brought back.
The deal brings Melton to Dallas from the Chicago Bears, who drafted him No. 101 overall in 2009.
The news makes Melton the Cowboys' first big acquisition of free agency, after a tumultuous week saw the team part ways with Pro Bowlers DeMarcus Ware,
The move means Melton, who is from nearby Grapevine, Texas, and is a University of Texas product, is not just returning to his home state, but is reuniting with former coach Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys' defensive coordinator held the same position with the Bears, where he oversaw Melton's lone Pro Bowl season in 2012.
Melton will take Hatcher's place as the three-technique defensive tackle in Marinelli's 4-3 defensive front. The five-year veteran enjoyed the best years of his career from that spot, compiling a total of 68 tackles and 13 sacks in 2012 and 2013.
The injury ended Melton's 2013 season in Week 3, as he was carted off the field during Chicago's 40-23 win against Pittsburgh on Sept. 22.
The three-technique is the motor of Marinelli's pass rush, to paraphrase the man himself. His purpose is to collapse the pocket and get to the quarterback, as evidenced by Hatcher's 11 sacks in his first season playing for Marinelli and then-defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
With Hatcher entering free agency, it was widely speculated the Cowboys would pursue Marinelli's old player, who many thought could be added for a lower price because of the injury. When the Cowboys released Ware and Hatcher signed a four-year, $27 million contract with Washington, the pressure to secure a pass rusher increased.
It remains to be seen how the addition of Melton affects the team's pursuit of All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, who visited Valley Ranch on Tuesday. The Cowboys have roughly $7 million in salary cap room to work with, so signing both could be feasible given the right deals.
Allen returned to Minnesota on Tuesday to be with his family, as his wife is expecting the couple's second child. The 10-year veteran is reportedly in conversations with as many as five different teams, including Dallas and Seattle.
With 128.5 career sacks, Allen could man the hole left by Ware, just as Melton will replace Hatcher, as the Cowboys' premier pass rushers on the defensive line.