ESCANABA It's a sad day to be a Chicago Bears fan.
Wednesday morning, the team announced that they would be moving on without Brian Urlacher, their 13-year veteran middle linebacker. And while his years in the NFL may have been drawing to a close after enduring knee surgery last year, he deserved a lot more respect from the organization than he received.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Urlacher, who turns 35 in May, said he originally sought out a two-year deal worth $11.5 million, hoping that it would lead to negotiations. However, the only offer the Bears made to the face of their franchise was a one-year contract worth $2 million, with only $1 million in guaranteed money, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla, Oct 7, 2012. The Bears announced on Wednesday that they were unable to reach a contract agreement with Urlacher, who is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
"It wasn't even an offer; it was an ultimatum," Urlacher said to the Tribune. "I feel like I'm a decent player still. It was insulting, somewhat of a slap in the face."
Urlacher's camp offered the Bears a counter proposal worth $3.5 million for one season, but they weren't interested.
When I heard this, I was completely baffled. A one-year, $2 million deal? That sounds like a contract offer for high-risk guys like Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson, not Urlacher. Even if they wanted to sign him and make him a backup, he still would have been able to have an impact on the team with his leadership, experience, and knowledge of the game. The league does the same thing with quarterbacks all the time. I agree completely with his comments; this was a total slap in the face.
Urlacher was drafted by Chicago as the ninth overall pick from the University of New Mexico in the 2000 NFL draft. During his 13-year career, he played 10 full seasons and averaged 85 tackles over the course of those years. The eight-time pro bowler finished his time in Chicago with 1,052 career tackles, the most in the history of the Bears.
However, it was the intangible things that he did on and off the field that he will be remembered for more than anything else. With the help of head coach Lovie Smith (who is also no longer with Chicago), he turned the Bears' defense back into the stout, break-neck style that Chicago fans have come to know and love.
In a city that has learned to expect nothing but outstanding performances at the middle linebacker position, Urlacher fit right in. Hall of Famer Dick Butkus passed the torch to Mike Singletary, who went on to do the 'Super Bowl Shuffle' with one of the greatest defensive teams to ever take the field, the 1985 Bears' Championship team. Urlacher was the next to continue that great tradition, and in time I believe those who are happy about this move will come to regret it when they see the glaring hole left in the defense without the presence of its emotional leader for over a decade.
The Bears have made a handful of moves this offseason; in addition to the dispatching of Urlacher, they also parted ways with linebacker Nick Roach. Apparently, a top three defense for the majority of the regular season wasn't what they were looking for.
During his many interviews over the past three days, Urlacher said he wished to retire as a Chicago Bear, and he would have been willing to take a pay cut to do so. Players like that are almost impossible to come by in the NFL today. Rather than just moving and taking more money, he wanted to stay with the city that made his name recognizable in the first place.
Wherever he lands, even if it's in the NFC North, I wish Urlacher the best of luck. I know that he still has a little gas left in the tank, and I hope that he gets to stick it to the Bears at least once before he is finished. After all, he is one of greatest players the city has ever seen, and his loyalty to that team deserved to be rewarded.
He defined what it meant to be a 'Monster of the Midway,' and his body of work will not soon be forgotten.