Bears sign special teams ace Bannister

The Chicago Bears on Wednesday added a key veteran role player, signing unrestricted free agent wide receiver and special teams standout Alex Bannister, who was released by the Seattle Seahawks on June 2.

Regarded as one of the NFL's top special teams performers on kickoff and punt coverage units, and chosen to the Pro Bowl in 2003 for his abilities in that area, Bannister was limited to just nine appearances over the last two seasons because of injuries. But the five-year veteran is said to be healthy again and the Bears feel he can return to his previous form.

Also on Wednesday, the Bears released two-year veteran cornerback Chris Thompson and a pair of free agent rookie wide receivers, Mark Philmore and C.J. Fayton. Claimed off waivers from Jacksonville just before the start of the 2005 season, Thompson made 12 appearances for the Bears in 2005 and had seven tackled from scrimmage and eight tackles on special teams.

Bannister, 27, has 48 special teams tackles in his career, most of them in his first three seasons in the NFL, and, if healthy, should represent a major upgrade for the Bears' coverage units. His best season was in 2003, when he had 18 special teams tackles.

The former Eastern Kentucky standout, adept at downing punts inside the 20-yard line, also had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on special teams. In 2001, Bannister blocked a punt and returned it nine yards for a touchdown.

A fifth-round choice in the 2001 draft, Bannister played in all 16 games in each of his first three seasons, then suffered a broken collarbone in 2004 and appeared in only seven contests. He re-injured the collarbone last season in the second game of the year and spent the rest of the season on injured reserve.

A prolific receiver in college, Bannister has just nine catches for 121 yards and one touchdown in the NFL.

Financial details of the one-year contract Bannister signed with Chicago were not yet available, but the deal is likely to include the minimum base salary of $585,000.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.