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LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Some expect the Bears to release DT Tommie Harris this offseason, but Harris said Monday that he'd like to return if the team wants him, and head coach Lovie Smith didn't rule out bringing him back.
"If they want me here, I will (be back)," Harris said in front of his locker at Halas Hall. "I would love to be back with my teammates. I love this city. It's just up to them."
Harris, who lost his starting spot for performance reasons in Week Three, regained a starting role in Week 14 and he was more productive toward the end of the year. He made 2½ sacks in the final three games, including the playoffs, but he finished the regular season with career lows in starts (six) tackles (13) and sacks (1½). The Bears were hoping he would bounce back with a strong 2010 campaign after he went through what was said to be his first healthy offseason in several years.
"I was just getting started," Harris, who has been selected to three Pro Bowls, said. "I promise I just felt like (the NFC championship game) was Game Four for me. I was just starting to feel great."
Head coach Lovie Smith said Harris was played better at the end of the year, but it may not have been enough to keep the Bears from releasing him before Harris is reportedly due a $2.5 million bonus on June 1.
"I saw improvement the last few games from Tommie," Smith said. "… I can see how he's feeling as far as that's concerned. Tommie's been around for a long time. We all did some good things at the end, but just looking at yesterday's game of course you can't be too excited."
Some took the Bears' decision to reward DT Matt Toeaina, who started ahead of Harris in 10 games, with a contract extension in December as a sign that Harris would be let go.
Smith was asked Monday if he expected Harris, who is signed through 2012, to be with the Bears next season.
"We're just starting the process right now," Smith said. "Everyday I have been here, Tommie has been here, so I don't see why we would say that he wouldn't be here. I'd say that about the rest of the guys. We like this team. We're going to try to keep as many of the guys as possible and try to keep this core group together. There's no reason to start breaking it up."
Harris, a seventh-year veteran, said he only plans to play for two or three more seasons. He indicated that he's concerned about the effect that playing football will have on his long-term health and he has interests outside of the game, including his family.
"I feel like I'm very intelligent and I have businesses," Harris said. "I've had a lot of injuries in this league and I have kids."