Tommie Harris (29)
The Chicago Tribune’s Dan Pompei garnered some attention on Wednesday when he suggested the Bears look to solve their needs at DT by bringing in a three-time Pro Bowler who’s still in his 20s. Sounds great!
So, why did Bears fans collectively roll their eyes when Pompei flat-out said it’s time to bring back Tommie Harris? Simple: because Tommie Harris is not the same player Bears fans once knew. Not by a longshot.
But Pompei’s point is well taken. Of the free agent DTs remaining, Harris was one of the more productive in 2011. And, he’s still probably the most effective inside rusher. Harris hasn’t played a full 16 games in four seasons, but the Bears would use him primarily situational and drastically limit his snaps.
Harris had three sacks and 10 QB pressures in 2011. That’s more than any defensive tackle on the Bears’ current roster, save for Henry Melton.
He knows the system, knows the coaches, and knows the locker room. And, despite a few temper tantrums along the way, the fans also know and love Harris. One might say that Tommie simply belongs in Chicago.
Most of the time, when a team turns the page on a player, they don’t look back. But the Bears do have some precedent for this sort of thing during the Lovie Smith era. Both Rod Wilson and Chris Harris were once let go by the team (Wislon released, Harris traded), only to be brought back a few years later.
The problem I see with bringing back Tommie Harris is while there may be little risk if you can nab him at the veteran minimum, there is also little reward. The upside, quite frankly, is virtually non-existent.
Sure, Harris has performed decent in a more specified and rotational role as of late, but he’s on the downside of his career with degenerative knees at that. My sense is that Emery would like to get younger at the position if at all possible.
So, what players are available, fitting that bill? Not very many, but here’s a guess at a few the Bears could be looking at . . .
Trey Lewis (26)
According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears are expected to bring Lewis in for a workout sometime this week. Both the Bears and Phil Emery scouted Lewis heavily out of Washburn University and he was ultimately drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth-round while Emery served on staff as Director of College Scouting.
Lewis is a project and a risk. He hasn’t played a game since 2010 on the inactive list and has had multiple ACL issues. So, while the Bears want to get younger at DT, they also want to compete for a title in 2012. And Lewis is not likely to help with the latter part of those criteria.
Sounds to me like the Bears should be glad Atlanta drafted him before Jerry Angelo did.
Aubrayo Franklin (31)
Franklin was once a franchise-tag-worthy nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He doesn’t meet the criteria for younger, and he’s not going to provide much inside pass rush, but he is as durable as they come. He’s probably best suited as an early-down run-defender in the Bears’ rotation but could be a safe depth option for Emery.
Marcus Thomas (26)
This is the guy I have my eye on most. Thomas is still young, he’s played 76 of a possible 80 games throughout his NFL career, and he put up 82 tackles through the last two seasons. Again, he’s not going to net a ton of inside pressure, but that wouldn’t be his role in Chicago. He’s a natural fit for the Bears’ 4-3 defense as well.
According to the Denver Post, at least two teams have significant interest but both are planning to wait until June 1 to pursue. Should Thomas make it to that date still a free agent he would no longer be calculated into the League’s compensatory draft pick formula.
It’s possible, however, that Thomas might be just barely out of the Bears price range when that day comes.