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Panthers' Harris sent back to Chicago

The Carolina Panthers lost an aggressive safety as well as a new-media news-breaker Tuesday, when they traded Chris Harris back to the Chicago Bears.

Harris announced the move on his Twitter page early Tuesday afternoon, and went through a comical series of semi-retractions and near-confirmations before the deal was finalized (and announced on his Facebook page) around 4 p.m.

By the time the afternoon was over, the intrepid reporter was able to laugh at his own experiences in journalism.

"It was kind of a wild day," Harris said.

The move, which brought linebacker Jamar Williams from Chicago, came just before the Panthers convened for minicamp this weekend. According to league sources with knowledge of the talks, Harris was shopped during the draft last weekend, but no deals came close.

Then on Monday, the Panthers called his agent, and told him Harris would be either released or traded within the next few days. The Bears, eager to add safety help to a defensive retooling that included signing defensive end Julius Peppers this offseason, were eager to bring Harris back in.

Harris said the Panthers never asked him to take a pay cut, although he restructured his contract with the Bears. He was due another $7.7 million over the next three seasons from the Panthers.

So while the news of the deal caught him off guard, Harris said he's been wondering if it was coming for some time.

"I was quite surprised today, but I thought I was probably a candidate in March when they cleaned house," Harris said, referring to the cuts of six players including quarterback Jake Delhomme. "Once I got through that time frame, I thought I was fine. When it didn't happen then, I kind of brushed off the possibility."

Of course, he kept his name in the news then, as he wrote on his twitter account that fullback Brad Hoover had been released, before the team had a chance to announce it themselves.

Originally acquired from the Bears during training camp in 2007 for a fifth-round pick, Harris was a last-minute replacement for the retiring Mike Minter. In some ways, his return to Chicago is similar, because the Panthers will start Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin, rather than choosing between them as they did last year.

The 27-year-old safety leaves in the top 20 of the team's all-time tackle list, though his single-season totals decreased each year. That had as much to do with Tuesday's move as anything. Harris came in with a storm in 2007, forcing 10 fumbles in his first 18 games with the team. Then he went 24 games without forcing another. While he's still a very good in-the-box safety, Harris was beginning to show signs of slowing down in pass coverage, and the Panthers clearly think the young legs will help them there.

"Chris is going back to an organization where he has familiarity and we wish him the very best," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said in a statement released by the team. "He has made a valuable contribution to the Panthers. He has done everything we have asked and has been a valuable member of our team.

"Right now we have some young safeties who will get the opportunity to continue to earn playing time."

Harris went to the stadium to say his good-byes to coaches and former teammates, calling his return to Chicago "bittersweet," because of the relationship he built with fans in Charlotte.

And while he's been replaced, he said he didn't think the Panthers automatically had to struggle.

"They've got some good talent, but it's young talent," Harris said. "I think they can be competitive, but some guys are going to have to grow up quick. Charles has played well, and Sherrod has shown some flashes when he's been in there. Put them back there with Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall, and you've got some good talent."

Williams is entering his fifth season, and has been used primarily on special teams since he was backing up Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. He has made plays, including an 18-tackle game against St. Louis last year in a rare (one of three) start. The 6-foot, 237-pounder could see time at both weakside and middle linebacker. Along with fourth-round draft pick Eric Norwood, he gives them some legitimate depth at spots where they had little. Originally a fourth-round pick from Arizona State, he's signed through the 2010 season, and will make $1.176 million this year.

"Jamar is a versatile linebacker who brings experience, athletic ability and can help on special teams as well as compete for time at linebacker," Hurney said.

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