- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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Good Sunday to you. As always, NFC North teams are making waves in the news stacks. The Chicago Bears made the first big splash of this round of NFL free agency, agreeing to terms with safety Brandon Meriweather the day after the New England Patriots unexpectedly released him.
Meriweather is 27 and a two-time Pro Bowl player. He is athletically in the prime of his career and one who presumably wouldn't walk into a dead-end job, which is what the Bears would seem to have with veteran Chris Harris and second-year player Major Wright locked into starting roles.
So I think one of two things has happened here:
The Bears are less enthused about Wright than they have let on and are far from certain that they will re-sign Harris, whose contract will expire after this season.
Wright missed more than his share of tackles this preseason, but coach Lovie Smith is always looking to bring a young safety along. There have been no public indications that his job is in jeopardy, but would Meriweather sign with the Bears if he thought he wouldn't get a chance to start?
That brings us to Harris, whose play in the second half of last season was one of the reasons the Bears locked up the NFC North. There have been no indications of skill deterioration from him this summer, but you never know what plans the Bears have for him after this season.
Meriweather received a one-year deal, so there is no guarantee the Bears could hold on to him next season if they don't re-sign Harris. But a year in their system would probably give them the upper hand, at least. Via Twitter, Harris said he doesn't know how Meriweather will fit in. "I just work there," Harris tweeted.
The second possibility is that Meriweather didn't have as many options as he might have hoped.
Under that theory, he would fall into the category of defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, receiver Roy Williams and defensive end Vernon Gholston -- former first-round draft picks whom the Bears gave long looks to in training camp. (Okoye and Williams both made the final 53-man roster.)
When the Patriots make a veteran player available, either via trade or by release, the rest of the NFL gets suspicious. They have one of the league's most respected player evaluation systems and it's not often that coach Bill Belichick has bid farewell to a player who later matched the success he had in New England.
As Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com points out, there were indications all summer that Meriweather's status with the team had suddenly turned shaky. He reported to training camp in questionable shape, played more than many starters in the preseason and wasn't a great match for the increased amount of man defense the Patriots reportedly will play this season.
The Bears don't run their traditional Tampa-2 scheme as often as advertised, but they wouldn't be considered primarily a man defense, either. Any concerns about Meriweather's man coverage would be mitigated in their scheme.
From the outside, this seems like a strong and relatively risk-free move for the Bears. They made a small commitment to bring in a player who has been at the top of his position the past two seasons. If he can unseat Wright, that makes them a better team. If all he does is provide depth this season, they've got a better-than-normal backup plan should a starter be injured. And if he projects as a long-term replacement for Harris, the Bears will have one less offseason question to answer.
Let's see what else this day has in store for us....