The last time the Bears cut a player as suddenly as they did Chris Harris on Thursday -- that I can remember anyway -- was in 1998, when Dave Wannstedt was asked at a press conference at Halas Hall about defensive end Mark Thomas, a starter who had been struggling with an injury.
Standing behind a lectern in the media room, Wannstedt turned and looked kind of nervously at media relations director Brian Harlan, then said, in classic Wanny fashion, ''Ahh ... Mark was cut today.''
That surprising news created an immediate buzz in the media room, when WSCR-AM reporter Dan Bernstein stood up and asked one of the best follow-up questions I've ever heard at Halas Hall: ''Was anyone else cut?''
So with that episode in mind, my first response to the sudden demise of Harris was ''Who else will they cut?'' If the Bears are willing to release a veteran less than half a season removed from being named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, who else is in jeopardy?
Maybe that's the biggest point of this somewhat bizarre story. Lovie Smith wants to keep his players on edge and having failed to do it in the first five games of the season, this was the next tack.
Benching Harris and Brandon Meriweather against the Vikings was all about lighting a fire under his team. ''We don't feel we've played as hard as we normally do. That's the message as much as anything,'' Smith told WBBM-AM's Jeff Joniak on the pregame show that night.
And Smith subtly noted that the Bears responded in a 39-10 rout at Soldier Field. ''Best game we played defensively this year,'' he said after that game. ''One of the things we did a better job of is playing hard. You play hard, you get more guys around the ball. If a guy loses a gap or he misses a tackle you have someone else there to make the play.''
That's what the Bears were missing earlier in the season, when they were giving up big plays in both the passing and running games. When Harris dropped an interception and was beaten for a touchdown against the Buccaneers on Sunday in London (cornerback Charles Tillman also had responsibility on the touchdown), it appears Harris' fate was sealed.
Maybe this is a smart move, maybe it's not. But like I've written before, if the Bears were so good at evaluating their talent that they could cut a Chris Harris with only unproven players to replace him, they wouldn't be in this spot in the first place. Why can't they use this skill to find the next Greg Jennings?
More than likely, it's an acknowledgment that Lovie Smith isn't getting what he wants out of his defense. He has most of the same players, but not the same spark. The Bears haven't recovered a fumble in four games, and they've forced only three. Last year they forced 37 and recovered 14. That's the statistic that gets Smith's attention. He knows he has to find a way to re-ignite the aggressiveness that makes the Bears defense work. The question now is, if this doesn't work, what else can he do?