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Signing Brandon Meriweather gives Bears upgrade

Safety BrandMeriweather who was released by New EnglPatriots signed one-year contract Sunday with Bears. | AP photo

Safety Brandon Meriweather, who was released by the New England Patriots, signed a one-year contract Sunday with the Bears. | AP photo

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Updated: November 5, 2011 2:36PM

After not having a first-round pick in 2009 and 2010, the Bears apparently are trying to make up for it in one offseason.

The Bears continued their low-risk, high-reward approach by signing two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather to a one-year contract.

But unlike defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, receiver Roy Williams and defensive end Vernon Gholston, Meriweather might be the biggest gamble of all.

He’s certainly the most proven of the four former first-round picks. Meriweather has 12 interceptions in the last three seasons. But it’s certainly alarming that the New England Patriots released him after selecting him with the 24th pick in the 2007 draft.

Meriweather has had some run-ins with the law and league office. At the University of Miami, he stomped on a couple players during the infamous brawl with Florida International. He also was involved in a shooting incident, although he was cleared of any wrongdoing. In the NFL, he was fined $50,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on then Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap.

According to the Boston Herald, Meriweather fell out of favor with the Patriots’ coaching staff because “of his freelancing ways.”

But the Bears haven’t invested much in him, providing the 27-year-old a chance to resurrect his career and cash in next offseason.

Veteran Chris Harris was an All-Pro selection last season, thanks to a career-high five interceptions. But he’ll be an unrestricted free agent ­after this season, and the Bears traditionally have declined to retain players at that position with premium contracts.

Starting opposite Harris is Major Wright, a third-round pick last year who missed tackles on touchdowns in preseason games against the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans.

In addition, top backups Craig Steltz (hip) and promising third-round pick Chris Conte (concussion) suffered injuries in the preseason ­finale. The only other healthy safety is undrafted rookie Winston Venable.

How will Meriweather fit in? Wright’s performance and Meriweather’s ability to ­acclimate himself quickly will determine that.

Either way, the Bears improved themselves at safety.

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