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Deadline looms for Bears, DT Henry Melton to reach long-term deal

The Bears Henry Meltstops Seahawks Russell Wilsfrom getting outside pocket during third quarter Soldier Field December 2 2012. | Curtis

The Bears Henry Melton stops the Seahawks Russell Wilson from getting outside the pocket during the third quarter at Soldier Field December 2, 2012. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 14, 2013 8:47PM

Bears general manager Phil Emery has said more than once that he wants to work out a multiyear deal with defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl season. Melton, meanwhile, often has said that he loves Chicago and the Bears and that he wants to stay.

The sides have until 3 p.m. Monday — the deadline to reach long-term deals with players who have been assigned a franchise tag — to make it work. Melton, 26, signed his $8.45 million tender in March.

‘‘If not, I’m just going to play,’’ Melton said last month.

If that happens, Melton would be playing in a contract year again. And while there is motivation in that, Melton (six sacks, team-high 24 hurries in 2012) has earned a new deal by developing into a Pro Bowler as the Bears’ three-technique tackle.

Like he did under former coach Lovie Smith, Melton figures to play a prominent role in new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s defense. During organized team activities this summer, Tucker experimented with Melton in an upright position to rush the passer. (It’s worth noting Melton attended all of the Bears’ offseason workouts.)

‘‘Henry Melton has been a force in the middle,’’ linebacker Lance Briggs said at the end of last season. ‘‘We haven’t seen a force like that since Tommie Harris when he was going to the Pro Bowl.’’

Melton was one of eight NFL players to be assigned the franchise tag in March. The others were Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer, Bills safety Jairus Byrd, Colts punter Pat McAfee, Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady and Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert.

As of Sunday night, just one had signed a long-term contract — Clady, one of the best left tackles in the NFL, got a five-year deal. McAfee apparently will play out the 2013 season on his one-year deal.

Last year, the Bears got a last-minute deal completed with running back Matt Forte (four years, nearly $32 million). But only 12 of the 21 players who were assigned a franchise tag in 2012 signed new deals with their teams before the deadline.

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