Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer

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Bears release DT Harris, Hillenmeyer, Shaffer

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Chris Emma, Seth Gruen and Danny Ecker join David Kaplan to discuss the Mark Sanchez signing. Does this mean the Bears won't draft a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft? 

Later, the White Sox named Jose Quintana their Opening Day starter, but lose Carlos Rodon and Todd Frazier to injuries. 

Finally, Robin Lopez is back after serving a one-game suspension. The panel looks at the Bulls matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.