EXCLUSIVE: This was close: After lengthy and rough negotiations, Criminal Minds star Thomas Gibson just signed a deal to return to the veteran CBS drama only two weeks before it is scheduled to begin production on its upcoming seventh season. I hear Gibson has signed on for two more years in a deal worth mid-to-high seven figures, plus a signing bonus, with the actor more than doubling his previous salary. The difficult negotiations with CBS, CBS Studios and ABC Studios created some jitters in the Criminal Minds writers room as the show’s scribes have been breaking stories and working on scripts for next season for almost a month now without knowing for sure if Gibson’s character, Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner, will return. With Gibson and Shemar Moore set to come back and Paget Brewster and A.J. Cook rejoining them, Joe Mantegna, Matthew Gray Gubler and Kristen Vangsness, Criminal Minds will return in the fall with its post-Mandy Patinkin cast intact. Despite not having a deal, Gibson had been fulfilling all of his Criminal Minds obligations. He mingled with international buyers at the LA Screenings and then stumped for the show at the Monte Carlo TV festival and at a press junket in London. The actor’s reps at Paradigm and Frontline Management could not be reached for comment.