Bears release Tommie Harris

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo held true to his statement Friday about the club's plan to make several roster moves this week.

The Bears announced the release of defensive tackle Tommie Harris on Monday, and terminated the contracts of linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and offensive lineman Kevin Shaffer.

Interestingly, Bears coach Lovie Smith said at the NFL scouting combine last week that Harris fit into the club's plans for 2011. Apparently that wasn't the case.

"That's just a part of our business,'' Smith told the Chicago Tribune. "Of course, Tommie is my first recruit. But at the same time, we're both moving in different directions. Tommie still has a future. He's just going to have it with someone else.''

Harris, the 14th overall selection in the 2004 draft, made three Pro Bowls with the Bears. He started 90 of 104 career games for the Bears in seven seasons, but was released in part because of underperformance in 2010, finishing with just 18 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in six starts. Harris was due a $2.5 million roster bonus in June.

"I kind of knew. It's nothing personal," Harris told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I want to thank the McCaskeys. I want to tell my fans I love them, and I'm going to miss the city and my teammates. I think it's one of the best locker rooms in the NFL."

Hillenmeyer, the Bears' alternate union representative, spent eight seasons in Chicago, starting in 69 of 101 games, and contributing 458 tackles, and seven sacks. Issues with concussions ended the linebacker's 2010 campaign.

Hillenmeyer suffered a concussion during the Bears' third preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, and missed the exhibition finale. The linebacker returned to practice for the team's preparation for the season opener against Detroit, and fell ill during the first half of that game.

The Bears placed Hillenmeyer on the injured reserve on Sept. 14, and according to a league source familiar with the situation, the linebacker expected to be released.

Shaffer played 32 games for the Bears over two seasons, starting in seven contests, including two last season.
A nine-year veteran, Shaffer has started in 93 career games in stints with the Bears, Falcons, and Browns.

The release of Harris, 27, signifies somewhat of a youth movement along the defensive line. The Bears signed three-year veteran Matt Toeaina -- who started 10 games in Harris' place last season -- to a three-year extension in December, and appear to be working to sign unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Anthony Adams to an extension.

Angelo considers this year's class of defensive tackles to be one of the strongest positions in the April draft.

"I made the statement that the defensive line position is very good again this year," Angelo said. "It's probably as good or better than last year in part because of the underclassmen at that position."

One of those underclassmen could be former Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who decided to forgo his senior year to enter the draft.

Harris indicated at the end of the regular season that he expected to return to the team in 2011. Angelo, meanwhile, was noncommittal on Harris' future Friday when the subject was broached during a meeting with reporters in his hotel suite in Indianapolis at the NFL combine.

"As I said, we made our determinations on what we need to do," Angelo said. "When you talk about players, you're always talking about their contracts. You're talking about their performance. You're talking about their attitude and how it applies to the team, and [that] in a simplified way is our formula on what we do with every player. It's a filter we go through, and then whatever we determine, we'll announce it at the appropriate time."

Harris was set to receive nearly $3 million in bonuses before training camp. He was scheduled to receive a 2011 base salary of $2.312 million.

"I think my best football is ahead of me," Harris told the Sun-Times. "I haven't hit my prime yet. I didn't start feeling good until the end of the season."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.