Distractions threaten Bears' progress

Caption
The Bears' Chris Harris talks with reporters during training camp July 29 in Bourbonnais. Harris is requesting a trade after being benched for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

LAKE FOREST – The Bears will face enough challenges from opponents in the next 10 games.

They cannot afford to be playing games in their own locker room, as well.

Yet that’s exactly what is happening at 1920 Football Drive.

The Bears’ latest soap opera stars safety Chris Harris, who requested and received permission to seek a trade Monday. Harris’ trade request came less than 12 hours after he watched in street clothes as the Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings, 39-10.

As the Bears savored an all-around victory, Harris sought guidance on social media. He and teammate Brandon Meriweather were benched in favor of younger safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte, who held their own during the blowout victory.

“Speak to me Lord!” Harris wrote on his Twitter page shortly after the game.

Harris’ timing made sense from an individual standpoint. The NFL’s trade deadline is 3 p.m. today, so he needed to speak up quickly if he wanted to be shipped out.

However, from a team standpoint, Harris became a potentially damaging distraction.

Bears coach Lovie Smith must sit down with Harris to determine the next move.

Ideally, Smith will find a way to persuade Harris to drop his me-first grumbling and commit to his teammates for the rest of the season. The safety position already is a trouble spot for the Bears, and it would only worsen with Harris off of the roster.

However, if Smith cannot find a way to get through to Harris, then so be it. Cut the cord and trade him today, even if it yields nothing more than a late-round draft pick.

On Monday, Smith spoke carefully about Harris. He defended his decision to put Harris on Sunday’s inactive list without criticizing the veteran’s trade request.

“He’s a part of our football team,” Smith said. “I don’t get into that stuff.

“Chris was there on the sideline [Sunday], being coach Harris, as much as anything, helping his football team win. That’s the last time I saw Chris. I don’t know a whole lot more than that.”

Surely, Smith knows that the Bears have enough drama from Monday to Saturday.

Star running back Matt Forte wants a long-term contract, and he has not minced words about the Bears’ reluctance to grant his wish. Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs publicly sought a pay increase early this season and then asked for permission to seek a trade, but the Bears denied both of his requests.

Harris’ situation is different.

For one, he lacks the star power of Forte and Briggs. For another, his contract expires after this season, and the odds of him returning in 2012 are slim to none minus the slim.

Briggs is under contract through 2013. Forte’s rookie deal expires after this season, but the Bears can place a franchise tag on him for next season if all else fails.

Bears defensive end Israel Idonije said Harris’ trade request would not be a distraction. He praised Harris’ leadership and communication skills on the field.

“The business aspect of the game, guys have to manage their own businesses and take care of themselves,” Idonije said. “It’s a challenging situation that he’s in.”

Is this what you want Bears players talking about in the days leading up to an important game in Week 7 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Off of the field, Harris is a good guy. He is active in area charities, friendly with reporters and more than willing to mentor younger players.

On the field, Harris is a good player. He has started 82 games in six-plus seasons in the NFL, tallying 15 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.

Naturally, Harris wants to play. If he is buried on the Bears’ bench, he could lose out on millions of dollars on the free-agent market during the offseason.

Is a future paycheck more important than current teammates?

It’s time for Harris to change his attitude or change his address.

Tom Musick covers Chiacago’s professional sports teams for Shaw Suburban Media. Write to him a tmusick@shawmedia.com.

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