2010 likely a make or break year for Bears’ Tommie Harris in Chicago

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 28: Tommie Harris #91 of the Chicago Bears rests on the bench during a game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on December 28, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Vikings 36-30 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

If this is the healthiest Tommie Harris has been in years, it certainly doesn’t show on the field.

When the Bears brought in Julius Peppers this offseason, they believed that he could make their entire defense better. For the most part, they’ve been right, as Peppers has been a man-child and you can see the improved production in players such as Brian Urlacher (who thinks it’s 2002 again) and Lance Briggs (who has always been highly productive, but who has been freed to make even more plays from his outside ‘backer position).

But oddly enough, one area Peppers hasn’t helped is the defensive line. The Bears haven’t gotten much production (especially in the pass rush department) out of their two tackle positions or the end spot opposite Peppers. Despite being 3-0, they only have two sacks on the year and one of those came from Urlacher.

The guy that was supposed to benefit the most from Peppers’ arrival was Harris, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, the coaching staff deactivated him for the Bears’ Monday night game against the Packers, even though he was healthy and wasn’t being punished. Officials claimed that the deactivation was in effort to get the team’s top 45 players on the game-day roster. (The Bears wanted to reward Matt Toeania while also getting a look at Henry Melton and Marcus Harrison.)

There have been rumors that Harris wants to be traded, but he won’t cause waves with the team winning. And why would he? He doesn’t want to be perceived as a selfish player in case the Bears find a trade partner and decide to part ways with the former first rounder.

The problem is that the team signed him to a four-year, $40 million contract extension in June of 2008 and has already paid him $21.5 million to date. The Bears know what kind of talent Harris is and if he ever returns to form (there’s a chance his knees still aren’t fully recovered and he just needs more time), they don’t want to be the team that paid most of his contract and then traded him for pennies on the dollar.

A trade is highly unlikely this year. However, Harris is due a $2.5 million roster bonus and a $500,000 workout bonus on June 1 of next year, so the Bears could decide to release him then. In 2011 and 2012, he’ll make a combined $4.8 million, so the Bears don’t want to pick up that tab if he isn’t going to be productive.

If a switch turns on and he starts playing like Tommie Harris version 2007, then everyone gets what they want. Harris, who is still only 27, gets more playing time, the Bears get the productive player they thought they were signing to an extension in ’08 and Peppers gets his complement on the defensive line.

But if he continues to struggle, then this will likely be his last season in Chicago. After all, there’s no sense in paying an interior defensive lineman upwards of $4 million a year if he isn’t one of the top 45 players on the roster.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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