Chicago Bears: Tommie Harris
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The pick: Will Sutton, defensive tackle, Arizona State.
My take: The Bears poured a massive amount of resources into repairing the interior of the defensive line with Sutton and second-round pick Ego Ferguson of LSU. Sutton, a two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss for the Sun Devils in 2012 and likely projects to line up at three-technique in the NFL.
Sutton's numbers dropped last year when he registered only 48 tackles, four sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss. Many draft analysts believe Sutton's decline in production was due to his being overweight. Sutton said he is currently at 290 pounds but can continue to drop weight if the Bears want him to.
The defensive tackle was declared academically ineligible in 2010.
Sutton obviously made a positive impression on the Bears and defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni during his pre-draft visit to Halas Hall.
Double-dip: The last time the Bears went back-to-back at defensive tackles in the early rounds was 2004 when former general manager Jerry Angelo selected Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson. When Harris and Johnson were healthy and focused, they comprised one of the best defensive tackle combos in the league. The Bears would be absolutely thrilled if one day Sutton and Ferguson can grow into that role.
Both players are expected to be part of a rotation in 2014, but Sutton and Ferguson could be the future starters at three-technique and nose tackle, respectively.
What's next: The Bears hold four picks Saturday (Nos. 117, 156, 183, 191) but none in the seventh-round due to last year's trade with Dallas for tight end Dante Rosario. But the Bears do have an extra choice in the sixth round, courtesy of sending former first-round choice Gabe Carimi to the Bucs.
With cornerback and defensive tackle addressed, the Bears are expected to target help at linebacker, running back and perhaps safety, although the consensus top-five safeties are all off the board.
Harris, the Bears' first-round pick in the 2004 NFL draft and a three-time Pro Bowler, was arrested in Wrigleyville and charged with misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure, urinating in public and simple assault, according to the Chicago Tribune. A police spokesman told the paper that the simple assault charge was for threatening a police officer.
The Bears parted ways with Harris in 2010 after seven seasons. He played 13 games with the San Diego Chargers last season. He had to deal with tragedy during his stint with the Chargers when his wife Ashley died at age 29 of a stroke or aneurysm. He is now out of football.
Garay spent almost two seasons as a reserve Bears defensive linemen before he fractured his right leg on an illegal block by the Redskins' Chris Samuels in December 2007. The Bears decided to part company following the injury, and Garay spent 2008 out of the NFL before he resurfaced on the Jets' practice squad in 2009. Eventually, the defensive lineman found his way to San Diego, where he's established himself at nose tackle in the Chargers' 3-4 defense.
"He was doing some good things here until he was injured," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "We were playing him too. It's not like it's a shock he's playing that type of football. Scheme-wise it may be a better fit for him, but he was a good, tough football player while he was here.'
"Tommie Harris has done some good things for them also, so they're getting some big plays from some of our old players."
Through nine games Garay leads all San Diego offensive linemen in total tackles (41), tackles for a loss (7), sacks (2.5), pressures (5) and quarterback hits (8). He registered 5.5 sacks in 15 starts for San Diego in 2010.
Harris, who made three Pro Bowls with the Bears, was released on Feb. 28 by the Bears. The 14th overall selection in the 2004 draft started 90 of 104 career games for the Bears in seven seasons, but was released in part because of underperformance in 2010, finishing with just 18 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in six starts.
Harris was due a $2.5 million roster bonus in June and was scheduled to make $2.312 million in base salary in 2011.
CHICAGO -- Halas Hall remained quiet in terms of transactions Monday, the first day the Chicago Bears and the rest of the NFL could start releasing players.
Given there's a bit of a timetable to rid rosters of undesirables around the league (once the current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 4, league business ceases without a new deal in place), Chicago's relative inactivity would seem interesting considering it's believed to be pondering parting ways with a couple of players for reasons ranging from lack of production to high salaries, or in some cases both.
But that's not all that's under consideration for the Bears in the current climate of labor uncertainty.
With $104.9 million committed to players currently on the roster for 2011, the Bears are one of 20 teams around the league with more than $100 million already devoted to players for the upcoming season -- assuming there is one -- and the numbers don't even count toward the soon-to-come salary cap for free agents, franchise players (there's still disagreement between the league and union about whether the tags will even be applicable) or rookies.
It's still unknown what the cap for 2011 will be once a new CBA is reached. In 2007, the salary cap was $109 million, and increased to $116 million for 2008, and $128 million for 2009, the last capped season. The Bears allocated a reported $131.9 million in the uncapped 2010 season.
But based on the salary-cap increases of the past three capped seasons, the Bears likely won't find themselves in danger of going over the new cap once there's a new CBA. That doesn't mean the team is operating without taking the salary cap into consideration when planning for the future though.
Although the Bears have held preliminary discussions with representatives for running back Matt Forte on a contract extension, several of the team's players who are free agents still haven't even heard from the organization in recent days about possible returns, according to multiple NFL and team sources.
In addition to working out a lucrative extension for Forte and possibly safety Chris Harris, the team still has to find ways to bring back key veteran free-agent starters such as defensive tackle Anthony Adams, center Olin Kreutz and safety Danieal Manning while determining whether to bring back high-priced players such as defensive tackle Tommie Harris and running back Chester Taylor, or key contributors like special-teams ace Corey Graham and restricted free-agent quarterback Caleb Hanie.
Tommie Harris has two years remaining on a four-year, $40 million extension and is due a $2.5 million bonus before June 1. Taylor, meanwhile, is reportedly on the chopping block after receiving $7 million last season as part of a four-year, $12.5 million contract signed last March to be the backup to Forte.
It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Taylor to be on the way out, but a league source said the running back is expected to remain a Bear.
Besides that, the $7 million for Taylor is already spent, which begs the question: What type of production did the team expect from a backup? The fact he's scheduled to make $1.25 million in base salary in 2011 and $25,000 in a workout bonus would also make the decision to release him somewhat of a head scratcher if there's not a capable -- and cheaper -- alternative waiting in the wings.
Harris told "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000 at the Super Bowl that "no one from the organization has talked to me about making any decisions. This is a time where the less you say is better."
Part of that stems from the widespread uncertainty for both the players and the organization.
The Bears have 48 players under contract, and it's difficult to fill out a roster by signing their own free agents, outside free agents, and draft picks while trying to maneuver within the unknown parameters of a yet-to-be-reached CBA that will include a salary cap, and possibly two additional games in 2011.
"Business as usual," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said at the end of the season. "Like everybody else, we've just got to plan accurately."
Otherwise, hilarity might ensue.
Asked whether three sacks over the team's last two outings provided vindication from criticism fired his way in the regular season, Harris launched into thoughts about food dispensing systems.
"Uh, I don't eat from vending machines. I don't know much about vending machines," Harris said before finally recognizing the tenor of the question. "Oh, vindication. Vindication. No, it's not vindication. [The] NFC championship was on the line. You've got to get the win. You have to seize the opportunity."
Harris definitely did that against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, dropping quarterback Matt Hasselbeck twice for losses of 16 yards. The increase in production comes after a slow start to the regular season that resulted in Harris being moved out of the starting lineup.
Harris was battling weakness in his knee earlier in the season, but the injury strengthened, so did Harris. Prior to the team's Dec. 12 loss to New England, Harris approached the coaching staff and urged it to re-insert him into the starting lineup. Although he's posted just eight tackles since then, Harris has generated three sacks and has been a force against the run.
"Tommie Harris has been through a lot," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday. "To see him have a game like that ... a lot of flash plays. Hopefully that will continue."
Perhaps the comedy remains a mainstay in Harris' repertoire as well.
As Harris' session broke up with reporters following the game, the defensive lineman put a meaty arm around the female radio reporter, who originally asked the question.
"I heard what you asked," Harris said, smiling. "It was just a joke."
Not to mention a fun way to kick off a long week of coverage headed into Sunday's Bears-Packers matchup.
CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned following the Chicago Bears 35-24 divisional round victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
1. Jay Cutler passed the first test: Cutler wasn't perfect. And if Cutler throws that goal line pick in the first half, an errant throw dropped by Jordan Babineaux, maybe the game takes on a different feel. But the Bears' quarterback certainly made big plays in the first playoff game of his professional career and should be applauded for the overall effort. Until Mike Martz got goofy in the second half, the Bears complimented Cutler with a balanced running attack and pretty decent pass protection, two keys to any quarterback's success in the postseason. Cutler even morphed into Tim Tebow on two running plays that resulted in touchdowns. But as always with Cutler, the most important stat was zero turnovers. Atlanta's Matt Ryan showed everybody Saturday night how not to beat the Packers: turn the ball over. Cutler was careless with the football in Week 17 at Lambeau Field, and the Bears lost. If Cutler can protect the ball in the NFC Championship Game, the Bears have a good shot at advancing to their second Super Bowl under Lovie Smith.
2. Charles Tillman took the rematch: I don't care if Mike Williams caught two touchdowns, Charles Tillman won the battle against the Seattle wide receiver. Unlike in Week 6, the Bears played tighter coverage against the Seahawks wideouts, and Tillman pestered Williams all over the field the entire afternoon. Matt Hasselbeck targeted Williams a game-high 13 times, but connected on only four of those throws for a measly 15 yards. While Williams appeared to be loafing, Tillman played like this game was one of the biggest of his career. Obviously, next week represents a big step up in class with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, but Tillman showed Sunday he can still be an effective shut-down cornerback when required.
4. Tommie Harris can make an impact: This did not look like the guy who was a healthy scratch when the Bears played the Packers at Soldier Field in Week 3. Coming into the playoff matchup with Seattle, most people assumed Julius Peppers would the most impactful Bears defensive lineman. Wrong. It was Harris. The defensive tackle led the team in sacks (2), tackles for a loss (2) and quarterback hits (2), according to the NFL stat book distributed in the press box. The Bears may decide to cut ties with Harris after the season, but Sunday showed the former Pro Bowler still has life left in those legs. Imagine if the Bears can get that push up the middle from Harris next week against Aaron Rodgers. That would certainly help the overall defensive effort. If Harris is done in Chicago, what better way to go out than to help this team reach the Super Bowl, which would be a first for Harris. Remember, he was on injured reserve when the Bears made their Super Bowl run in 2006.
5. John Carlson's injury was a big loss for Seattle: First of all, it's good to hear Carlson and Marcus Trufant are okay after both had to leave the field on stretchers. But you simply cannot overstate how much losing Carlson in the first quarter threw the Seahawks off their game on offense. One veteran Bears defender said in the postgame locker room that without Carlson, Seattle lost its ability to run numerous formations and attempt numerous plays that otherwise might have been successful vs. the Bears' defense. It's hard to understand why Carlson decided to jump in the air when running toward the sidelines, since Danieal Manning clearly was in position to cut off the edge. If surrendering the 58-yard touchdown pass to Olsen wasn't bad enough, watching Carlson get carted off the field sucked any remaining momentum out of the Seahawks. For all practical purposes, they were done with 11:40 left to play in the opening quarter.
CHICAGO -- Competing in an NFC Championship Game is a new experience for Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
"It doesn't get any bigger than Bears vs. Packers, but being in the NFC Championship Game is truly a blessing for me because last time we were here I was watching," Harris said. "It really means a lot to me to have this opportunity, so I need to seize this opportunity."
Harris seized his opportunity against Seattle and finished the game with team highs in sacks (2), tackles for losses (2) and quarterback hits (2).
A far cry from the player who was a healthy scratch when the Bears battled Green Bay on Sept. 27.
“Tommie has worked hard each week," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "We haven’t gotten the production that we have wanted, that he has wanted, throughout. All you can do is look at how he has practiced. He has been on top of everything. He has no complaints about his preparation at all. Normally if you just keep working hard, eventually, things start falling your way a little bit. In the last two games of course, with him getting sacks, hopefully it will keep going. Tommie is a good football player.”
The Packers tied the game with 2:43 remaining in the third quarter on a 23-yard field goal from Mason Crosby to cap a six-play, 39-yard drive.
Horrid offense by the Bears paved the way.
Jay Cutler threw an interception to Packers safety Charles Peprah in the quarter, suffered his third sack of the day, and finished with a passer rating of 49.3. Interestingly, after producing back-to-back outings with 100-plus passer ratings from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, the quarterback followed them with a 32.9 passer rating against the Patriots.
Cutler is coming off two consecutive games in which he generated passer ratings of 104.2 or better.