Henry Melton wants to stay in Chicago, and the Bears want the Pro Bowl defensive tackle to anchor the line for years to come.
But will the sides come to a long-term deal before the start of the next season? Friday was the first step in the process.
Although both parties are far apart in their negotiations, Melton does not feel slighted, at least not publicly.
"I've just come a long way, and it feels good to be this high on people's list of players in the NFL,'' the four-year veteran said Friday.
General manager Phil Emery expressed his high regard for Melton.
"Henry has been a good player for us and we are using the franchise tag so his development continues as a Bear," Emery said on the team's website. "We will continue our conversations with Henry and work toward a multiyear agreement."
Melton wants at least a five-year deal, and a long-term contract would be more cap-friendly for the Bears. If the Bears were to tag him again for 2014, the two-year total would be $18.59 million and that figure could be about what Melton is seeking guaranteed in a longer deal.
As of right now, the Bears stand about $3.5 million below the 2013 cap of $123 million based on the $8.45 million committed to Melton.
The Bears will need to free up some cap space in preparation for free agency, and the decision with Melton accelerates the need to restructure contracts of veteran players. A prime candidate is eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, who has a cap number of $16,383,333 this season.
As for Melton, there is no rush for him to agree to a long-term deal. Last year, the Bears placed the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte on March 5 and signed him to a four-year, $30.4 million contract ($17.1 million guaranteed) on July 2.
A record 21 teams, including the Bears, used the franchise tag last season and 12 reached deals with their players.
Melton surely would have attracted interest around the league from many teams, including his hometown Cowboys. Former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who developed Melton, is now their defensive line coach.
Now any team interested in Melton would have to surrender a pair of first-round draft picks if it signed him.
Melton, a former fourth-round draft pick out of Texas, was tied for third among all defensive tackles with six sacks last season. He became the type of explosive, disruptive force former coach Lovie Smith always anticipated Melton would be.