Will the Bears target a DT in the first round after releasing Tommie Harris?

Tommie Harris told the media in early February that he wouldn’t be a distraction like Albert Haynesworth has been with the Redskins when it came to the uncertainty of his future with the Bears. Of course, he wasn’t around long enough to be a distraction because the team cut him on Monday.

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris walks off the field after warmups before a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 21, 2010. UPI/Brian Kersey

The Bears apparently had some interest in bringing the former Pro Bowler back next season, but only if he were willing to take a sizable paycut. He wasn’t, and the Bears had little choice but to release him seeing as how he was owed a $2.3 million roster bonus. His play has declined over the last several years and despite the addition of Julius Peppers to the defensive line last season, Harris finished with just 13 tackles and two sacks in 15 games.

There is no shortage of teams looking for defensive tackle help, so Harris will certainly resurface somewhere. Seeing as how he was just released, it’s difficult to narrow down a list of potential suitors for him, so the more intriguing question at this point is how this move could affect the Bears’ draft plans.

Chicago holds the No. 29 overall pick and it must upgrade its offensive line. Depending on how the first round plays out, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Colorado’s Nate Solder and Villanova’s Benjamin Ijalana are all possibilities for the Bears at No. 29. But what if the decision to release Harris prompts GM Jerry Angelo to go in another direction?

Angelo has had a difficult time building an offensive line over the years and struggles to draft in the first round. He has an eye for defensive talent, however, so maybe he’ll stick with what he knows best. Releasing Harris opens a hole at defensive tackle and Chicago Sun-Times writer Neil Hayes recently suggested that Illinois’ Corey Liuget could be the Bears’ top pick.

Liuget’s stock appears to be on the rise the closer we get to April’s draft. Behind Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus, Liuget is the best three-technique tackle in the draft. (Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson is somewhere in the mix, too.) Liuget, who isn’t even 21 yet, racked up 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a third-year junior in 2010, leading the Illini in QB pressures as well. He’s quite the talent, although I’m not sure if he’ll fall to the Bears at No. 29. He’s expected to go somewhere late in the first, but I have the Rams taking him at No. 14 (which seems high now, but if Liuget’s stock continues to climb then maybe No. 14 won’t seem like such a reach come April).

Either way, the Bears’ draft plans just got a little more interesting.

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