Get this straight: If Tommie Harris does not return to form as a top defensive tackle, it's not because of a lingering left knee issue. General manager Jerry Angelo stated that the Bears are likely to pick up the $6.67 million roster bonus in Harris contract that is due Feb. 27, the first day of the league year, and the hope is the three-time Pro Bowler will again be a consistent, dominant force under new line coach Rod Marinelli.
Speaking with fellow Mully & Hanley (listen to the entire interview here) earlier this morning on the Score, 670-AM, Angelo didn't leave doubt the Bears will pick up the big bonus, part of the $40 million, four-year extension Harris signed last summer. The deal included only $10 million in guaranteed money and the Bears loaded more than $20 million of the deal into roster bonuses to provide protection moving forward and spread out the money for purposes of the salary cap.
"We're going to talk about everything,'' Angelo said. ``But I don't see any reason why we would not [pay the roster bonus.''
Harris had five sacks last season and according to Angelo, he was third on the line in terms of play time behind only ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. That's despite being suspended in Week 4 by coach Lovie Smith for the Philadelphia game.
"Tommie played a lot of football for us last year,'' Angelo said. "I don't want there to be a misnomer that we didn't get a lot of play time from Tommie. We did get a lot of play time from him. I felt like about midway through the season he started to kick in, so to speak, and felt like he was playing good football for us the latter part of the season. We know what Tommie can do and obviously health is a big part of it. We did some things with Tommie during the season that were different than what we've done with him before in terms of training him and I felt that they were paying big dividends with him as the season went on.''
Of the things the Bears did, the most noticeable was to ease off Harris in practice. He didn't take the field on Wednesdays during the season and then was eased back into the work on Thursdays for his left knee, which he had arthroscopic surgery on a year ago. Angelo sounded as if any focus on his knee is overblown.
"Tommie is fine,'' he said. "We would never have signed Tommie if we didn't think he was healthy. He had to pass our physical obviously, which he did. Tommie has had some issues physically speaking but we worked through those. All players have something. It's not like he's isolated. What I have to look at, based on our medical people, is how they feel about him going forward. We feel good about him going forward, part of it is how we're training him, what we're doing for him. And then how compliant he is with all of this."
Compliant. That's how Harris got himself suspended. Throughout his career, he's been notorious for being late to meetings and training sessions, and that was the final straw for Smith. Angelo makes it clear that staying healthy and doing the work is up to Harris just as much as it is the team. But he sees big things ahead for his first-round pick from 2004.
"We feel real good about Tommie,'' Angelo said. :We feel real good about Rod Marinelli and what he can do to continue Tommie's development. He is very, very important in terms of our scheme on defense.
"I think it's going to be a real good marriage from him and Rod."