Commentary

Curtain needs to come down on Harris drama

Defensive tackle says he can play

Originally Published: October 26, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

As important Monday as the viewing of the film, the shoring up of the troops and the cleanup of the sludge left behind from the Bears' 45-10 loss to Cincinnati, was the latest status update of defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

Harris, once a model citizen and defensive cornerstone, has now officially become an overpaid, overrated pain in the hind end.

Coach Lovie Smith sent as strong a message to Harris as the soft-spoken coach is ever known to do when he benched Harris Sunday, then told reporters Monday, "There isn't anything wrong with Tommie. Tommie didn't play this week. It was more a coaches' decision as much as anything. He has had some soreness. He didn't practice all week. I thought we had better options."

[+] EnlargeTommie Harris
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTommie Harris says he can play, noting that he worked out before the Bengals game on Sunday.

That last line had to hurt. And apparently it did as Harris, listed on the injury report, told the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday night, "It wasn't true. You talk to them ... I worked out before the game."

Asked whose idea it was for him to sit out practice last week, Harris responded, "You ask them. You know who to talk to."

Those are the words of a player either itching for another suspension or someone who wants out of his contract.

And the Bears seem to be acting more and more like a team that might just be considering it, as wild as that may have once sounded.

The Bears paid Harris a $40 million extension two offseasons ago, and a $6.67 million roster bonus last February, in the hopes that his career would return to form under new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli . Another $2.5 million roster bonus is not due until June 1.

But not only is Harris not helping the team -- and hasn't since the Super Bowl season -- he now appears to be hindering it.

Smith said he could have played Harris Sunday if the coach wanted him to play, but he thought he could get "a better Tommie" next week against Cleveland if he rested. But an always-difficult-to-read Harris sure seemed out of sorts in his Sun-Times interview, several times telling the reporter, "Talk to them."

And Smith certainly sounded Monday as if Harris had pushed a wrong button when he said, "For a player to really prove he's ready to go, it would help for him to be able to practice throughout the week."

Does it make sense to cut loose a 26-year-old three-time Pro Bowler who still has more raw talent than most, even though we rarely see it anymore? It does when the player becomes a source of division. It does when the head coach chooses to sit him for a key game while admitting he could have played. It does when the evolution of his position, the key spot in Smith's Tampa 2, is held up while everyone stands around and tries to figure out if he is ever going to return to form again.

The relationship between the Bears and Harris has been slowly unraveling. Whatever pretense we were under that things were still fine between the two parties was erased last season when Harris was suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team after reportedly arguing with Smith following the release of close friend and college teammate Mark Bradley. Harris later was contrite, explaining that he had been in a bad frame of mind after the out-of-wedlock birth of his first child, and the Bears said the suspension was for being repeatedly late to therapy treatments for his knee.

This season has been one big awkward moment with Harris and Bears management -- starting with Smith telling reporters the tackle was 100 percent at the beginning of training camp only to have Harris miss most of it. Then, two weeks later, Harris casually mentioned that he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in March, which had not been made public.

Last week, general manager Jerry Angelo said in a radio interview that Harris was healthy. But the Bears said Harris was dealing with soreness all week and had him on the injury list. Of course, "healthy" generally means no serious problems and soreness is a vague condition to which every player on the team can lay claim. But all of that is semantics anyway. The problems between Harris and the Bears are apparently more serious than that.

And more serious still?

This season, Harris has nine tackles (three for losses), no sacks and an interception in five games.

No semantics there.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.