Bears correct a big mistake with Harris

The return of Chris Harris helps clarify the Bears' picture at safety. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

One of the toughest things in life is admitting a mistake.

We can all agree, the decision to ship safety Chris Harris to the Carolina Panthers in 2007 was a massive blunder by the Chicago Bears, maybe one of the worst in the post-Super Bowl era.

Not only was Harris, a 2005 sixth-round pick, coming off two productive seasons, he was made expendable, in the Bears' minds, by eventual bust Adam Archuleta, who was acquired in a trade with the Washington Redskins. This egregious misevaluation of talent is the main reason Lovie Smith has been unable to find any stability at safety over the last three seasons.

However, the Bears are trying to make amends, after reacquiring Harris from Carolina on Tuesday in exchange for linebacker Jamar Williams.

After being shipped to Carolina, Harris quickly became one of the Panthers' most popular players, forcing eight fumbles in 2007, while intercepting three passes last season in 13 games. Always well-liked in the locker room during his early years in Chicago, Harris returns at a critical time for the Bears' defense, since the safety picture remains clouded. The hope is for third-round selection Major Wright to eventually start at free safety, but there are no guarantees in the NFL, especially when projecting the progress of a rookie.

Harris played both safety spots during his first stint with the Bears, but all indications point to Harris lining up at strong safety in 2010.

"You have to be interchangeable at free safety and strong safety because anything can happen, you got to be able to play both spots," Harris said Tuesday on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "But I love playing strong safety, I love being in the box. I think that's one of my strengths, playing down in the box, being a physical player."

What this means for Craig Steltz, Danieal Manning and Josh Bullocks is unclear. Those three, plus Wright and Harris are the top five safeties on the roster. Perhaps Manning returns to his role as nickel back, although Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore have been working at that spot during voluntary offseason workouts. The Bears may decide to keep Steltz at free safety until Wright is deemed ready -- if that happens -- and use Manning and Bullocks extensively on special teams. Or maybe Manning and Bullocks get a shot to compete at free safety.

Obviously, there's still some fluidity attached to the safety situation, but at least now, one starter is penciled in: Harris. He made some mistakes during his first two years in the league -- as many young players do -- but adding Harris significantly upgrades the defense. If Harris is healthy and over knee issues that some in Carolina felt limited his range, the Bears are one step closer to ending their three-year playoff drought.