- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears somewhat solved their conundrum at safety Wednesday brought on by the acquisitions of Major Wright and Chris Harris by trading Kevin Payne to the St. Louis Rams for an undisclosed 2011 draft pick.
A third-year veteran who started 22 of 32 career games with the Bears, Payne became expendable when Wright was drafted in the third round last week and Harris was re-acquired on Tuesday from the Panthers in exchange for linebacker Jamar Williams.
The trade to St. Louis gives Payne a more realistic shot at playing time this season because he appeared to be on the way to falling to the bottom of the depth chart because of the additions of Wright and Harris.
A fifth-round pick in 2007, Payne contributed 195 tackles and a sack, in addition to breaking up 10 passes.
Payne appeared to be off to a promising career in 2008 -- his second season -- when he racked up 129 tackles and four interceptions. He opened last season as the starter at free safety but lost his job after giving up a game-winning touchdown against the Green Bay Packers. Payne still went on to start five games, finishing with 60 tackles.
A physical, in-the-box type of safety, Payne struggled at times in coverage, but possesses the skills to vie for the starting nod with the Rams.
The Bears' jettisoning of Payne doesn't exactly alleviate what appears to be a logjam at safety. The club has six players -- Wright, Harris, Danieal Manning, Al Afalava, Josh Bullocks and Craig Steltz -- fighting for two starting spots.
The three favorites to win the jobs appear to be Wright, a free safety, and Manning and Harris, who both play strong safety. Manning possesses the range and versatility to play both safety spots. A rookie, Wright may need to overcome too steep a learning curve early on to crack the starting lineup, which would mean Manning and Harris could be the starters.
Another scenario could involve Harris and Wright as starters, with Manning moving to the nickel.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
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