Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer

Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer
February 28, 2011, 6:03 pm
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Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
Posted: 12:07 p.m. Updated: 1:29 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The twisting and sometimes torturous Bears career of Tommie Harris came to an end Monday when the Bears released the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle along with linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and offensive lineman Kevin Shaffer.

Each of the moves contains different implications.

Harris was the Bears No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, the first in the Lovie Smith era, but ultimately it may have been Harris relationship, or lack of same, that helped the Bears make a decision that has been expected for more than year.

Harris was due a seven-figure roster bonus this June, a sum the organization was hardly going to pay after Harris lost his starting job early last season to Matt Toeaina, then gave Toeaina a three-year contract extension.

Indeed, Harris may not be all that disappointed, if at all, period. He had come to the feeling last season that he in fact probably would be best served by a fresh start because he felt that Smith still looked at him as the kid he was when he first arrived as the 14th pick in 2004.

Unfortunately, Harris at times didnt help dispel that impression of Smiths. He was suspended for a game in 2008 after being deactivated the week before. He was again on the inactive list for a game in 2009 and then again last season for one game not the performance level the Bears demanded from what they once viewed as their franchise interior lineman.

Harris, hampered by knee and hamstring issues through much of his career, was a three-time Pro Bowler (2005-07), starting 90 of 104 career games played over the course of seven seasons. He had 286 tackles, 28.5 sacks, 38 tackles for losses, six forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and one interception for Chicago and earned the teams 2007 Ed Block Courage Award and 2004 Brian Piccolo Award.

His departure increases the likelihood of the Bears drafting a defensive tackle in either the first or second rounds, depending on which players remain on the draft board when their turns come.

O-lining

Shaffer started seven (all at RT) of 32 games played for Chicago over the past two seasons. The nine-year NFL veteran has started 93 (55 at LT, 38 at RT) of 132 games played with Atlanta (2002-05), Cleveland (2006-08) and Chicago.

But Shaffer never was able to establish himself as a starter and at age 31 this season was not going to reach that level again. Through training camp last year, line coach Mike Tice praised his versatility. However, when Chris Williams was injured in the Dallas game, Shaffer struggled badly in relief at left tackle, was flip-flopped with Frank Omiyale over to right tackle, and was benched after starting the next two games at right tackle.

His exit is consistent with expected plans to move JMarcus Webb to left tackle after a passable rookie season at right tackle. The plan is expected to be to move Williams to right tackle, where he finished 2009, with Omiyale competing with both for playing time somewhere. But Omiyale has a climb ahead of him and well could return to guard or serve as the swing man at multiple positions, the role Shaffer held in 2009.

Backer up

Hillenmeyers career was at risk last year when he was placed on IR after the preseason with issues arising out of concussions. He was no longer the starter as he had been with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher for some peak seasons through the middle of the last decade.

Hillenmeyer started 69 of 101 career games for the Bears over eight seasons, recording 458 tackles, 17 tackles for losses, seven sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He added 37 special teams stops and had been relegated to basically special teams over the past season, replaced as a starter by Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.