Harris returns to Bears in trade that sends Williams to Panthers

The Carolina Panthers traded starting strong safety Chris Harris to the Chicago Bears on Tuesday, continuing their offseason roster overhaul.

The Panthers received backup linebacker Jamar Williams in the deal, which returns Harris to Chicago less than three years after he was traded to Carolina.

"I'm very excited," Harris told the Bears' official Web site. "I had a great time in Carolina. The fans and the organization were great. But I'm ecstatic to be able to come back to where I began my NFL career."

The Panthers deemed Harris expendable after he struggled some in 2009 and they added depth at safety.

"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 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 joins Jake Delhomme, Brad Hoover, Muhsin Muhammad, Damione Lewis, Maake Kemoeatu and Na'il Diggs as starters who have moved on because of Carolina's youth movement. The Panthers also let Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers leave to the Bears in free agency.

"It was great playing with him," Harris said of Peppers. "He's a competitor. He's a warrior. He's a heck of a pass rusher. He demands double and triple teams, which ought to free up some other guys on the defensive line. He's a force to be reckoned with. He will be a great addition to the Bears' defense."

Williams, 25, has played in all 16 games in each of the past three seasons with the Bears, and he had a career-high 43 tackles last season. But he hadn't been able to win a starting job with Lance Briggs in front of him and was a restricted free agent.

"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.

After missing the first three games with a knee injury and then getting off to a slow start, the hard-hitting Harris had 60 tackles and three interceptions last season. He had 80 tackles one year earlier, and he led the NFL and set a franchise record with eight forced fumbles in 2007, his first season in Carolina.

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Harris turned out to be a bargain for the Panthers. They sent a fifth-round draft pick to the Bears in training camp to acquire him after numerous injuries and Mike Minter's retirement left them with almost no depth at safety.

Harris, 27, immediately became a starter in Carolina and was second on the team with 96 tackles in 2007. But after three seasons and being one of the leaders in the locker room, he was sent to Chicago as Carolina sheds veterans and payroll after going 8-8 last season.

Besides young safeties Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin, the Panthers selected Jordan Pugh of Texas A&M in the sixth round of last weekend's draft. Carolina also recently signed Aaron Francisco, who's mostly a special-teamer but also has played safety.

Harris, who played at Louisiana-Monroe, was a sixth-round pick by the Bears in 2005. He had three interceptions as a rookie and picked off a Peyton Manning pass in the Super Bowl one year later.

Harris' return might leave Danieal Manning as the odd man out in Chicago. Manning has mostly played free safety, where third-round pick Major Wright is expected to start, and Harris might start at strong safety.

Manning received a second-round tender worth $1.176 million, but he hasn't signed it. He told the Chicago Tribune that doesn't plan to ask for a trade right now.

"I just play football," Manning said. "If I'm a Chicago Bear, I have to buy into whatever. At end of the day, we just have to all move forward and focus on getting a championship."

The Bears also announced Tuesday that they will not renew director of college scouting Greg Gabriel's contract.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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