Could Roach exit help Urlacher return?

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
6:48
PM ET
Nick Roach's departure might increase the chances for Brian Urlacher to return to the Chicago Bears in 2013, because given the salary cap situation the team couldn’t afford both.

But those prospects don’t increase much.

The team wants Urlacher back. But still, his return will have to come at the Bears’ price. The cap situation dictates as much.

“In terms of everybody that fills a slice of that (salary) pie has an impact on the other pieces of that pie in terms of your overall team. It’s not only this year. It’s in the future,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “So definitely we’ve got to be thorough and diligent in taking each step slow in terms of how that pie stays together, and what allows us the best opportunity to compete and win a championship.”

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
David Banks/Getty ImagesWith Nick Roach's departure, will the Bears have enough cap room to keep Brian Urlacher?
Urlacher’s stature as the face of the franchise doesn’t change that, which is why he’ll have to accept a minimal deal to be a part of the team next season. It’s likely the team earmarked money to re-sign Roach, which is why his departure may have freed up a little cash to sign Urlacher. But Roach’s situation provided a glimpse into the Bears’ mindset with regards to how they’ll conduct business moving forward with the team tight against the cap.

The Raiders made Roach an offer on Thursday night believed to average in the range of $3 million to $4 million per year, according to sources. Roach’s representatives then informed the Bears of the offer.

But it’s believed the club didn’t make a concerted effort to come back with a counteroffer, and asked for a couple more days to get back to the linebacker.

So with Bears planning to expand Roach’s role in 2013, if a deal worth $3 million to $4 million per year was too rich for the team to pay him, it’s not likely Urlacher will be able to land a contract in that range, despite his past contributions and standing as a potential Hall of Fame player.

The truth is teams don’t pay for past performance. They pay for what they think a player can do in the future.

Roach possesses the capability to play multiple positions and is seven years younger than Urlacher, who will be 35 next season. Yet the team, because of its cap situation, decided Roach’s offer from the Raiders was too much to pay. So even with him now out of the mix, Urlacher can’t expect to receive much more than a salary barely above veteran minimum. If the cap situation were different, the team might be inclined to pay more. It just can’t.

The Bears came into Friday with approximately $6 million in cap room, but will lose some of that space once they officially sign cornerback Zack Bowman, who agreed to terms on a one-year deal likely worth the veteran minimum. The team will need to devote approximately $3 million toward signing its 2013 draft class. The club also needs to field a practice squad, and maintain room to cover itself if it needs to add players later to fill voids left by injuries.

Obviously, the Bears can free up space by signing players such as Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Brandon Marshall to extensions. A long-term deal for Henry Melton, who occupies $8.45 million of cap space because of the franchise tag, will also free up room. The Bears also own the option of restructuring high-dollar contracts such that of defensive end Julius Peppers. But that’s not an option Emery wants to use because lowering Peppers’ cap figure now would only make it grow in the future.

“We don’t want to create those kinds of problems,” Emery said. “So if we’re going to be in a position where we sign a player that there’s a lot of discussion about, OK, it’s not only the player that we may want. It may be a player that we know can help us. But how does this balance out? Who has to be released? What kind of future impact does it have on the cap overall?”

All those things play a part in the team’s thought process with regards to its effort in bringing back Urlacher for 2013. So while Roach’s departure helps, it’s certainly not a slam dunk.

Should the Bears lose Urlacher, they’ll only have one starter in Lance Briggs remaining from the 2012 team. Of the seven linebackers currently under contract, only Briggs and Blake Costanzo have started in an NFL game. The rest of the group is comprised of relative unknowns in Dom DeCicco, Jerry Franklin, J.T. Thomas, Patrick Trahan and Lawrence Wilson.

So even if Urlacher comes back, the Bears will surely draft at least one linebacker. His odds of returning probably increased with Roach’s exit, but not by much.

“He’s part of the group of players that we have to work through and come to a final conclusion (on),” Emery said. “That (process) will be
(handled) with Brian and with his agents.”

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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