Labor uncertainty or not, it hasn't taken long for NFC North teams to begin the post-combine business of roster cleanup. The Chicago Bears started it off Monday afternoon, terminating the contracts of three veterans: Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, and offensive lineman Kevin Shaffer.
Harris was by far the most newsworthy name, but his inclusion was not unexpected. As we discussed last week, Harris was due a $2.5 million roster bonus before training camp and a $2.312 million base salary in 2011. Because of several accounting moves, his salary-cap number would have been $11.115 million, an unmanageable figure assuming the NFL reverts to a cap system under its new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The cap issue suggests there is a chance Harris could re-sign with the Bears at some point. But it should be pretty clear to everyone that Harris, even at age 27, is a shell of the player that earned three consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 2005-07. If anything, the Bears were too patient in waiting for him to regain his form from a series of mid-decade injuries.
After recording a career-high eight sacks in 2007, Harris managed nine over the next three years combined. He lost his starting job early last season to Matt Toeaina, whose contract extension in December was among many clues that Harris' time in Chicago was nearing an end.
The No. 14 overall pick of the 2004 draft, Harris ultimately will be remembered as a dominant force during a four-year stretch and an enigma for the three years that followed. Although Toeaina is signed for 2011, it's safe to say that a playmaking defensive tackle should be high among the Bears' offseason priorities.
As for Hillenmeyer, it's unclear if he will continue playing. The Bears placed him on injured reserve last year because of concussion issues. He turns 31 in October.