The return of Napoleon

October 15th, 2008 – 11:55 PM by Judd Zulgad

The Vikings and linebacker Napoleon Harris agreed to a one-year deal tonight, according to Harris’ agent. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Harris starting at middle linebacker for this team when it returns from its bye week, which will come up after the Vikings play at Chicago on Sunday.

Harris, remember, started for the Vikings in 2006 at middle linebacker and had a very productive season. There are a couple of reasons why Harris is unlikely to start on Sunday in Chicago. The first is that he has yet to play in a game this season and conditioning could be factor. The second, and probably most important, is that while Harris will be familiar with many elements of the Vikings defense this is not the exact same scheme he left when he went to Kansas City after the 2006 season.

That’s because Mike Tomlin was the coordinator at that time. Tomlin, of course, left to become head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2006 campaign. Leslie Frazier took over for Tomlin and while both run the Tampa-2 as their basic scheme, there are some differences. Talking to Vikings safety Darren Sharper today, he expects Harris to be able to step back in pretty quickly, but there is little doubt Harris will be spending plenty of time in his playbook and at Winter Park in the coming days, including the bye week, in an attempt to learn and re-learn things.

On another note, you have to give the Vikings some credit here. Harris was all set to go to Detroit today and the team managed to get him to change his mind and instead come to Minnesota. Not saying that Harris’ decision was all that tough — why any veteran would want to join the 0-5 Lions is beyond me — but the Vikings front office staff did a very good job of talking him into calling an audible.

It isn’t the first time the Vikings have been able to persuade a free agent to change his mind in the past week. Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, whom the Vikings re-signed on Monday, was headed to Miami for a visit when his agent called him and told him to get off a plane in Dallas so he could return to Winter Park to sign.

Finally, if Harris’ name rings a bell for some reason and you just don’t know why, it’s probably because he was obtained from Oakland in the Randy Moss trade. Harris’ first season with the Vikings was in 2005 and it didn’t go all that well. In fact, there was one point where it looked as if Mike Tice wanted to release him. That didn’t happen and it turned out to be a good move considering Harris played well in Brad Childress’ first season as the Vikings coach.

On another note, Chip and I will be keeping a close eye on this Thomas Tapeh situation on Thursday. It sounds as if the sides might be getting close to some type of settlement. Tapeh’s agent has not returned any phone messages or e-mail requests for comment and my guess is this situation is pretty sensitive, especially if the Vikings are trying to get back some of the guaranteed money they gave the fullback. The Vikings very well could be claiming they should get some cash back because Tapeh did not tell them about the offseason “clean-up” procedure he had on his knee before signing. I believe it was Pro Football Talk that first floated the Vikings could go in this direction and it appears they might have been right on.

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