Chicago Bears: Chris Harris
The recently retired safety and current Chicago Bears defensive quality control coach has had little time to interact on Twitter since he began his NFL coaching career a couple of weeks ago. Harris' new job requires him to be at Halas Hall from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., hours that will no doubt increase when the regular season rolls around.
NFL quality control coaches work tirelessly off the field, preparing advance scouting reports, video breakdowns and statistical analysis of future opponents, while assisting at practice whenever possible or necessary.
Harris said Thursday he's ready to begin the next phase of his professional life.
"I was shocked when I got the phone call," Bowman said. "But then I realized the opportunity that I had and obviously got excited. The first person that popped into my mind was Chris Harris. He got released when I got here and he ended up coming back a few years later. He was the first player that popped into my mind."
The Bears decided not to make an attempt to re-sign Bowman in the offseason after his original rookie deal expired, despite the fact Bowman intercepted a team-high six passes in 2009. The problems began for Bowman when he lost his starting cornerback job to Tim Jennings in early 2010. He really seemed to fall out of favor after a rough outing against the Green Bay Packers last year in Week 16 at Lambeau Field.
Bowman hit the free-agent market and eventually signed with division rival Minnesota. It looked as if Bowman was safe when he made the Vikings' initial 53-man roster as their last defensive back. But one day after the final rosters were set, Bowman got cut when Minnesota brought in another defender to take his place.
"It was surprising, but they wanted to go in a different direction," Bowman said. "I understand, it's part of the game."
Following his release, the 6-foot-1 cornerback made his way down to Houston where he trained with other former NFL players, while at the same time caring for his wife who is due to give birth to their second child soon.
Bowman practiced Wednesday but is unsure of his role or for how long he's going to be on the Bears' roster. Given how stacked the defense is at cornerback with Charles Tillman, Jennings and Kelvin Hayden, Bowman was likely brought back to help on special teams in the event a hip strain sidelines Sherrick McManins on Monday night against the Detroit Lions. Bowman was always considered a solid special teamer during his first stint with the Bears. He finished tied for fifth on the team last year with 10 special teams tackles.
If nothing else, Bowman's second go-round in Chicago might provide him with good tape moving forward if he gets an opportunity to be active for a game.
"I don't know what they want me to do yet, I just appreciate the opportunity to play football again," Bowman said. "I'm excited just to practice and run around on the field with the guys. That's what I'm really looking forward to. I've only been gone since January but it feels like a long time. Minnesota was really similar to Chicago, so I sat in meetings today and basically knew everything.
"You just come back in here more appreciative of everything. I mean, I've been doing this since the fourth grade. To not be able to do it for weeks or months, it sucks, but it's fun to be back."
Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET
Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.
Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.
What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.
Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.
Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.
What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.
Green Bay Packers
Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.
Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.
What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.
Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.
What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.
Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 16:
Busted rivalry: When the NFL released its schedule this spring, many of us had high expectations for a late-December matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Instead, an injury-devastated Bears team will limp north as a (deserved) 13-point underdog. It's possible the Packers will have clinched home-field advantage even before taking the field Sunday night, if the San Francisco 49ers lose Saturday at the Seattle Seahawks. If not, the Packers will attempt to secure it against a team playing without quarterback Jay Cutler, running backs Matt Forte and Marion Barber, and receiver Johnny Knox. Third-string running back Kahlil Bell is expected to start, pairing with third-string quarterback Josh McCown -- who has a history of helping the Packers' playoff positioning. (See: Noooooooooooooooo!) One other interesting bit of history: The Packers are one of five teams in NFL history to open a season 13-0 and then lose in their 14th game. All four of the other teams lost their 15th game, too. That list includes the 2009 and 2005 Indianapolis Colts, the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 1998 Denver Broncos.
Detroit's challenge: The Detroit Lions will clinch a playoff spot Saturday if they beat the San Diego Chargers in what will likely be a raucous atmosphere at Ford Field. (There are also several scenarios to clinch this weekend even if they lose. They're noted in this post.) Hopefully everyone knows the Chargers are on one of their annual December rolls. They've won three consecutive games after a six-game losing streak. Since Norv Turner took the head coaching job in 2007, the Chargers are 20-2 in December. This will be no cakewalk.
Big targets: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers struggled earlier this season, but he has been the NFL's most efficient quarterback over the past three weeks based on Total Quarterback Rating. Rivers has hit a groove with a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers that will pose significant matchup problems for the Lions. Malcom Floyd has 11 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games, while Vincent Jackson has caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has been sidelined in practice this week by a groin injury. Lions cornerback Chris Houston (knee) clearly wasn't 100 percent last week against the Oakland Raiders, and the team re-signed Brandon McDonald this week for extra depth. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) also remains sidelined, and backup Chris Harris was cleared Thursday to practice following a concussion.
Make it stop: If you're a big-picture observer, you see ample motivation for the Minnesota Vikings to lose Sunday at the Washington Redskins. One more victory by the Indianapolis Colts, in conjunction with two more Vikings defeats, would give the Vikings an excellent chance to secure the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft. A loss to the Redskins would extend the Vikings' losing streak to seven games, tying a franchise record set in their expansion season of 1961. But I'm not sure what would be worse: tying that record or extending their NFL record of games without an interception, which stands at nine. Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman has thrown at least one interception in his past 10 starts, and he is tied for the second-most interceptions in the NFL (18) despite missing three games this season. Something's got to give.
Heading into the bye week, Jeff Dickerson discusses the Bears' release of safety Chris Harris, Michael C. Wright breaks down the differences between this season and last season, and Tom Waddle looks ahead at the four games coming up after the bye.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The midterm exam in NFL Business 101 came on the last day before the Bears' fall break.
Here's the essay question: If a veteran safety in the last year of his contract asks for a trade after being benched then returns with a whimper, how long until he's cut?
The answer was "Thursday."
Chris Harris, locker room spokesman and social media titan, was unceremoniously cut from his second stint with the Bears just before the team's last practice before their bye week vacation.Read the full story.
Seven-game capsule: The Bears are over .500 after a tough early schedule. Five of their games have come against opponents that currently have winning records. Their offense is still working to maintain a winning formula, and coaches continue to look for their optimum defensive alignment. But Devin Hester is providing elite impact on special teams and the Bears will enter the second half of the season as a playoff contender.
Runner-up: I'm torn here between center Roberto Garza and defensive end Julius Peppers. In his 11th NFL season, Garza has made a relatively seamless shift to a more difficult position, averting a crisis following the departure of longtime starter Olin Kreutz. Garza probably won't receive any Pro Bowl votes and might not finish his career at center, but by all accounts he has made a credible showing on short notice. Peppers, meanwhile, has a modest four sacks in seven games. But close observers can measure his impact by watching what the Detroit Lions did to the Bears defense when Peppers left with a knee sprain. He wasn't on the field for Calvin Johnson's 73-yard touchdown reception or Jahvid Best's 88-yard scoring run in Week 5.
Biggest surprise: Initially I planned to suggest that the apparent decline of safety Chris Harris would qualify as the Bears' top surprise. But we covered that topic earlier Thursday after the Bears pulled off a bigger surprise by releasing him. So I'll go with the production of undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher, who ranks second among NFL rookie with three touchdown receptions. His 19 total catches ranks fifth among rookies. Sanzenbacher has limited the damage that might have occurred following the Week 2 loss of receiver Earl Bennett, a favorite of quarterback Jay Cutler.
Biggest disappointment: The Bears opened the season seemingly oblivious to the successful offensive formula that propelled them to the NFC Championship Game in 2010. Through three games, they were calling a higher percentage of pass plays than any other NFL team. Given Forte's presence and a shaky pass-blocking scheme, it's hard to fathom what offensive coordinator Mike Martz was thinking. It's especially notable that it took a public plea from Cutler to shake up Martz's thinking. The Bears' offense is at its best when it doesn't face obvious passing situations.
Stat to note: Forte ranks No. 37 in the NFL in the percentage of his total rushing yards that have come after contact (43 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's not a knock on Forte as much as it is a credit to the Bears' run blocking. It means Forte has gained 383 of his 672 total yards before a defender has touched him.
Looking ahead: If the Bears are going to challenge for a playoff spot, they should win at least two of their next three games. With matchups at the Philadelphia Eagles and then at home against the Lions and San Diego Chargers, the Bears could win all three. The NFC playoff race is wide open, but now is the time for the Bears to make their move.
Earlier: The Green Bay Packers at their bye.
- Yes, I know. It's not who starts fast. In the NFL, oftentimes slow and steady wins the race. So it's worth noting that the Bears were three games behind the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions after Week 5. Two weeks later, they're within a game of the Lions (5-2) and are putting themselves into the conversation for postseason discussion. As of Monday afternoon, there are five teams with a better record than the Bears. They are one of three teams that are 4-3, which is the same mark the Bears had last season on the way to an 11-5 finish and the NFC North title. The Packers might not give up the top spot in this division, but the Bears are puttering along at a time when the Lions haven't yet answered questions about their 16-game endurance.
- You'll hear plenty this week about tailback Matt Forte's 145-yard performance. It'll also be noted that Forte already has 672 rushing yards this season (second in the league behind the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson), and that he has already surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards for the season. But we also should take a moment to recognize that he has gotten some nice blocking this season. Take another look at his 32-yard touchdown run Sunday. You'll see textbook blocking, relative to their positions, from offensive lineman Chris Spencer, tight end Matt Spaeth, receiver Roy Williams (yes) and fullback Tyler Clutts. You don't average 96 yards per game on your own. For as much criticism as the Bears' offense has taken this season, it's worth nothing that it's doing some things really well.
- You wonder if the Bears' safety carousel will continue to turn after their bye week. Major Wright was deactivated for the game, presumably because of a hip injury, even though he had been listed as probable on the injury report. Veteran Chris Harris returned to the starting lineup as a result, but he appeared to get beat for a touchdown by Buccaneers receiver Dezmon Briscoe. Rookie Chris Conte had an interception and two passes defensed Sunday and will probably keep his starting job despite giving up a touchdown to tight end Kellen Winslow. Whether Harris or Wright starts alongside him Nov. 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles is anyone's guess.
Was Sunday about the law of averages for Williams, or is he growing more comfortable with his situation and gearing up to be a consistent contributor for a team that hopes to be in contention over the final two months of the season? I'm not sure yet. Williams caught his first touchdown of the season among his four catches and totaled a season-high 59 yards. A cynic would say that defenses are so unconcerned about him that they aren't paying much attention and will give him plenty of opportunities to make plays. Time will tell.
Read the entire story.
Read the entire story.
At any given time, every NFL team has a player or two who either thinks he is underpaid or is pushing hard to engage the team in contract negotiations. On that level, the Bears are no different. But in their case, it's three of their best and/or well-known players: Linebacker Lance Briggs, running back Matt Forte and safety Chris Harris.
The Bears have denied trade requests from Briggs and Harris, who has been benched in the final year of his contract. Meanwhile, the Bears broke off contract discussions with Forte during the preseason. The decision hardly impacted the performance of Forte, who has pushed his way into MVP consideration with 908 all-purpose yards in six games.
On the whole, it appears Briggs considers the situation closer to a crisis than standard NFL fare. This week, he told Comcast SportsNet Chicago that there is "a big transition going on right now in Chicago" and added:
"I think it takes away from wanting to just go out on the field and just play. Football careers are not like normal careers. It's very short. It can end on any given day. For guys like us, it literally is a league about what have you done for me lately, and it's also about getting what you can while you can."
On Thursday, Briggs told reporters: "We might have unhappy players, but we don't have an unhappy locker room."
Again, every NFL team has an unhappy player or two. But what if your unhappy players are your top running back, one of your best defensive players and a one-time starter who was suddenly benched this season? Is that enough to alter a team's competitiveness? I think we're about to find out.
Asked whether the objective was to earn back his starting job, Harris didn't hesitate.
"Absolutely," he said. "I'm a competitor. So I'm gonna do everything right, everything in my power to get back out on the field."
The NFL's trade deadline on Tuesday passed without the team consummating a deal to move Harris, who was benched last week and deactivated for Sunday's win over the Vikings before requesting and receiving permission to seek a trade. Harris' agent Albert Elias said his client's availability sparked interest and discussion with other teams.
Elias added that Harris decided "to finish with the Bears." General manager Jerry Angelo said he spoke with Harris and his representatives on Tuesday, and the group seemed to resolve some of their differences. Interestingly, though, Bears coach Lovie Smith hasn't spoken to Harris about any of the latest developments.
Asked whether they've conducted any discussions, Harris flatly said, "No."
"I can't really get into that," he added. "It was a decision that the coaching staff made. It's a decision that I can't control. So I won't worry myself with it."
Harris cracked a smile when asked how Smith's fickle nature regarding safeties could lead to him regaining his spot in the starting lineup. Through the first six games, the Bears have utilized five combinations of starters at safety.
"That's a great question," Harris said smiling. "Possibly [I could become a starter again]. As you can tell, nothing here is really set in stone at the safety position. Hopefully, I'm back out there at some point in time this season."