Dan Pompei: Time to Bring Tommie Harris Back
Time to bring Tommie Harris back
Veteran could be fourth defensive tackle in a rotation
Dan Pompei On the NFL 7:40 p.m. CDT, May 8, 2012
It was time when the Bears cut ties with Tommie Harris in February 2011.
Now, in May 2012, it could be time to bring Harris back.
When the Bears cut Harris, he was the starting defensive tackle, the onetime centerpiece of the defense who was scheduled to make more than $5.3 million that season.
If they bring back Harris, they think he can be a fourth defensive tackle in a rotation for what passes for chump change in an NFL locker room.
Things have changed in a year.
Last season the Bears didn't need Harris. They replaced him with rookie Stephen Paea and veteran free agent Amobi Okoye.
But Okoye since has left for the Bucs, and Anthony Adams was cut. That leaves the Bears short at the position. They have only three defensive tackles they can count on — Henry Melton, Stephen Paea and Matt Toeaina.
Things have changed for Harris too.
He signed with the Colts last August but was cut before the season. He sat out the first three weeks of the season before the Chargers signed him as a replacement for injured players.
After the season his deal expired, and he has sat waiting by the phone. The Bears have talked about making that phone ring.
Understand something. The list of available defensive tackles was underwhelming the day free agency started. Now, it is beyond underwhelming.
Harris stands out as an interior pass rusher, as long as your expectations are reasonable. At 30, Harris is not going to be a dominating pass rusher who wreaks havoc down after down. But he can be an effective spot player.
He played in 13 games last season for the Chargers as a nickel rusher. He had three sacks, which is more than either Paea or Toeaina. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 10 quarterback pressures, which was four more than Toeaina, and five more than Paea.
STATS had Harris with three knockdowns, which was two fewer than Paea and as many as Toeaina.
Paea and Toeaina figure to be the Bears' second and third tackles behind Henry Melton. The Bears need to replace the 773 snaps than Okoye (615) and Adams (158) gave them last year.
Paea, the team's second-round pick in 2011, will be expected nearly to double his snaps in his second season. So the Bears will need another tackle to take 10 to 15 a game.
Harris played 259 snaps last season. He is at the stage of his career when fewer snaps could mean more production.
The reports I received from three front-office men on Harris' play last season were pretty positive. The bigger issue with him may be his ability to sustain his production and health over the course of 16 games.
"He could be productive in stretches," one personnel director said. "But he has degenerative knees. It will be a question as to whether or not he can get through a season."
Harris' knee and hamstring problems have changed him from the player the Bears drafted with the 14th overall pick in 2004. But he still has a quick first step that enables him to defeat a blocker a few times a game. That quality is not easy to find.
A team acquiring Harris has to have a specific role in mind.
"He needs to win early in the play," the personnel director said. "He doesn't have the explosion he once did to do it play in, play out. He gets overwhelmed in the power game."
Harris would be welcome in the Bears' locker room, which he left on good terms.
Coach Lovie Smith often has spoken fondly of Harris and traveled to New Orleans with many from the organization in February to be with him for the funeral of Harris' wife, Ashley, who died in February.
Harris needed the Bears that day. And the Bears need Harris now.