Two significant news stories broke Friday night with NFC North implications. We'll take them one at a time. (As if there were another way to do it.)
The Chicago Bears made it official, making defensive tackle Henry Melton their franchise player. The move means that no team can sign Melton in free agency unless it is willing to give the Bears two first-round draft choices, in essence guaranteeing that Melton will play for the Bears in 2013.
General manager Phil Emery said in a statement that the team will continue to work toward a long-term agreement, something it achieved last June with tailback Matt Forte after placing the franchise tag on him. For now, Melton is set to earn $8.45 million in 2013 and counts the same total against the salary cap.
One way or the other, the Bears will have to create additional cap space if they want to be active in the early days of free agency. As best I can figure, Melton's franchise tag leaves the Bears with around $3 million of anticipated cap space.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens agreed on new contract terms with quarterback Joe Flacco, a deal that will provide a reference point for two NFC North deals that figure to come in the next few months.
Flacco received a six-year deal worth $120.6 million, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, establishing a new benchmark among NFL quarterbacks for average annual salary ($20.1 million). Flacco had maximum leverage as he approached free agency, but you would still think that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- who has two years remaining on his contract -- will surpass Flacco's numbers.
Some of you are asking whether Flacco's deal will affect the Detroit Lions' discussions with quarterback Matthew Stafford. That situation is a bit different from the Ravens, considering the Lions need to extend Stafford in order to reduce his $20.8 million salary-cap figure.
Stafford is set to earn $12 million this season, more than Rodgers in fact, and doesn't have much incentive to rush into a deal knowing that if he plays out the final two years of his contract, he could seek a Flacco-like deal plus inflation. That's the best way to explain how Friday night's news could affect him -- it reinforces a strategy of patience.