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Bears’ Melton in line for new deal

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 9:14 a.m. CDT

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(MCT) — Defensive tackle Henry Melton might be rewarded for his strong play sooner rather than later.

The Bears and Melton’s agent, Jordan Woy, have had “a little chatter” about a new contract, Melton said. Nothing is imminent, but Melton remains optimistic about landing a deal before season’s end. The former fourth-round draft pick out of Texas is in the final year of his rookie contract. He has a 2012 base salary of $565,000.

Melton expressed his gratitude toward the Bears organization for even considering a new contract. But he’s not overly consumed with it. General manager Phil Emery has promised to reward players based on performance, and few Bears have performed better than Melton thus far.

“If you perform, and the team and defense is doing what they are supposed to be doing, things will come together,” Melton said. “You can’t look ahead to the money when you have to worry about how you’re performing on the field.”

Melton leads the Bears and is tied for eighth in the NFL with four sacks. He now has 131/2 sacks in 35 career games despite starting just 19 contests. Not to mention he has done a significantly better job against the run, an aspect of his game criticized in the past.

Melton, 25, has evolved into the heir to Tommie Harris as he plays the same under-tackle spot the three-time Pro Bowl player once dominated. Harris, the Bears’ first-round draft pick in 2004, was rewarded with a four-year, $40 million extension in ‘08 despite battling knee problems.

Coach Lovie Smith has raved about Melton from the start.

“We have been high on him since he got here for good reason,” Smith said. “To have that type of athletic ability as the under tackle ... we were talking about potential back then. Now, we’re talking about the production he has had. The sky is still the limit for him.”

Although the Bears could use the franchise tag to keep Melton in the fold next season, such a measure is likely to be a last resort. Melton already has expressed a strong desire to remain in Chicago, and his skills fit perfectly in the Bears’ 4-3 scheme. The franchise-tender amount for defensive tackles was $7.9 million this year as compared to $12.5 million in ‘11.

The Bears used the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte before Forte signed a four-year, $31 million contract ($17.1 million guaranteed) in July.

The last Bear to sign a new, long-term deal during the regular season was receiver Earl Bennett. Last December, before a Week 13 matchup with the Chiefs, then-GM Jerry Angelo signed Bennett to a four-year, $18 million extension that included $9 million guaranteed.

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