NFC North Tour: Bears Fix Blunder

The Bears brought back Chris Harris in hopes of solving their revolving door at safety. The Lions' roster makeover has been dramatic since Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz took over. And the Vikings are planning ahead without Cedric Griffin.

Chicago Bears

A lot of people have said for a long time that the Bears never should have traded safety Chris Harris to the Panthers during 2007 training camp for a fifth-round pick.

In the past three years with the Panthers, Harris started 44 games, forced 12 fumbles, including a league-best eight in 2007, intercepted five passes and made 184 tackles.

And now the Bears have seen the error of their ways. Harris, 27, announced on his Twitter account early Tuesday that he would be traded back to the Bears, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2005. The Bears confirmed the deal in midafternoon, giving up backup linebacker Jamar Williams to reacquire Harris.

Williams, a fourth-round pick out of Arizona State in 2006, started three games for the Bears, including two last season. Against the Rams on Dec. 6, he filled in for Pro Bowler Lance Biggs and had a career-high 19 tackles. Williams was also one of the Bears' top special-teams players with 40 tackles in the past three seasons.

The Bears actually did pretty well with the pick they acquired for Harris. They used it to select cornerback Zackary Bowman in the 2008 draft. Bowman started 12 games at cornerback last season and led the team with six interceptions, nearly half the team total of 13.

The 6-foot, 205-pound Harris is expected to claim the starting job at strong safety, where he has become well known for his physical play. The Bears hope third-round draft pick Major Wright will compete for the free safety position, which has numerous contenders but no standout.

"This kind of completes our overhaul of our safety position," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "I'm excited. Chris was a good player for us when he was here last time. We know what he brings to the table."

Harris started 20 games in his first two years with the Bears, including 13 at free safety as a rookie. He had 70 tackles, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

Harris was limited to 11 games and seven starts in 2007 because of injuries. He began the season at free safety but started the final five regular-season games and all three playoff games, including Super Bowl XLI, at strong safety, where he had an interception of Peyton Manning.

Since Lovie Smith became the Bears' head coach in 2004, there have been a total of 40 lineup changes at the two safety positions. Harris is the fourth player the Bears have added to the secondary this offseason. They also signed free agent cornerback Tim Jennings after he was cut by the Colts, and they drafted Wright in the third round out of Florida and cornerback Joshua Moore in the fifth round out of Kansas State.

"We're excited about some of our young players like Major Wright coming in," Smith said. "But we wanted to get a veteran player who has been around and who has played at the highest level. The last time Chris played for us, we were in the Super Bowl. Hopefully he can help us get some of that magic back."

Detroit Lions

Jim Schwartz
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Coach Jim Schwartz has said it many times since taking over in January 2009 in the aftermath of the NFL's first 0-16 season: The Lions' No. 1 need is talent.

So now, after two free agency cycles and two drafts under general manager Martin Mayhew, how does Schwartz feel about the Lions' talent level?

"Better, for sure," Schwartz said.

The Lions have been active and aggressive while trying to upgrade their personnel. After drafting defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh second overall, they traded up to take running back Jahvid Best at No. 30. In free agency, Schwartz showed up with a bottle of Cabernet at the home of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, while offensive coordinator Scott Linehan wined and dined wide receiver Nate Burleson.

"We looked and said, 'Hey, let's get guys that fit exactly what we want to do, let's have a role defined for them and let's try to fix those positions rather than just Band-Aiding them and having to do it again next year or any other time,' " Schwartz said. "I feel good about what we've done there. We still have a long way to go, but if you look at some of the talent that we've put in place over the last two years. ... I think you're seeing significant gains."

The Lions came out of the draft with six picks. Suh and Best likely will be starters on opening day. Cornerback Amari Spievey, a third-rounder, has a shot, too.

But Mayhew also used picks in this draft in trade packages for cornerback Chris Houston, safety Ko Simpson, guard Rob Sims and defensive tackle Corey Williams.

"We had the ammunition to do it, and we got players that are still young that have experience in the league that fit what we want," Schwartz said. "I think if we were drafting at those spots and we got those kinds of things ... we would be very happy with them."

General manager Martin Mayhew said: "When we're sitting there on the clock and we don't have a pick in the fifth round and we don't have a pick in the sixth round, we talked about, 'Hey, we don't have those picks because we acquired starters with those picks already.' "

Last year's draft netted quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas, linebacker DeAndre Levy and more. Combine that with the new additions -- which also include tight end Tony Scheffler -- and at least the Lions don't look like a team that has lost an NFL-record 30 games over two seasons.

Mayhew will keep exploring trades, talking to free agents and combing the waiver wire.

"There's still a lot of opportunity," Schwartz said. "This isn't going to be the final pool that we'll draw that 53 from when we open at Chicago. ... There's going to be somebody that's going to come between now and the first game that's going to help us win a game this year. I honestly believe that."

Minnesota Vikings

Cedric Griffin
Tom Olmscheid/AP Images
Unsure of when cornerback Cedric Griffin will be able to return after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the Vikings' loss at New Orleans in the NFC title game, Minnesota decided to sign an insurance policy.

Veteran Lito Sheppard, who spent last season with the New York Jets, received a one-year, $2 million contract from the Vikings and likely will be the opening day starter at right cornerback.

The timetable for Griffin's recovery is six to nine months and usually ends up taking nine. That means Griffin could return sometime in November and it's far from a given he would immediately assume a full-time role.

"I definitely wanted to go in and start," Sheppard said. "And given this situation, the predicament, I definitely have that opportunity."

Sheppard also has the opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season. He missed five games with the Jets last season because of injury after joining the team following seven years with the Eagles. The Jets cut Sheppard in large part because he was due a $10 million bonus in March.

He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection in Philadelphia and intercepted 18 passes during his time with the Eagles.

Vikings coach Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier are familiar with Sheppard from their time in Philadelphia together.

The Vikings are hoping that Sheppard can help them increase their interception total. Last season, Minnesota had 11 picks in the regular season, with Griffin leading the team with four.

The Vikings also added a cornerback in the draft, 6-foot-2 Chris Cook from Virginia.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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