Brian Urlacher decries Bears' 'lip service'
March, 21, 2013
By Kevin Seifert | ESPNChicago.com
Brian Urlacher's appearance Thursday on "Mike and Mike in the Morning " included a now-familiar rundown of his failed contract negotiations with the Chicago Bears. But Urlacher also made several comments that mesh with our original discussion about his departure from the team: That the Bears ultimately made him an offer that might have been fair in pure market terms, but one they had to know he would refuse.
Indeed, Urlacher said had suspected for weeks that the Bears didn't want him back and said their public statements to the contrary were "lip service."
"It got a little personal there at the end," Urlacher said, "just because I think I have so much passion for the team. I wanted to be a Bear. I wanted to play here, finish my career here. I think that's what made me mad, too. The Bears kept saying, 'We want to make Brian a Bear, retire a Bear,' blah, blah, blah. It was a lip service in my mind. They said that, but they never acted on it. It was like they had a handbook on how to handle the situation that they all passed around over there."
Urlacher also said: "I told my agent, 'I just don't think they want me back. Lovie [Smith is] gone. New head coach. New general manager. I just don't feel like they're probably going to want me back.' We had some talks going on, so there was a little bit of hope. But I never had a real solid feeling that I would go back there."
The accusation is significant. In essence, Urlacher is saying the Bears decided they didn't want him back, but went through the motions of a contract negotiation to create the impression that they made an effort to retain him. They even went so far as to have coach Marc Trestman say repeatedly that he wanted him back on the field.
If that was indeed the case, it didn't work.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears' $2 million offer -- which already represented a 75 percent pay cut from 2012 -- wasn't fully guaranteed. The Bears could have released him before training camp and owed him a total of only $500,000.
Jerry Lai/US PresswireLongtime Bear Brian Urlacher, slowed by knee and hamstring injuries last season, will be 35 in May.
Again, you could find plenty of cold-thinking NFL contract negotiators who would agree with the Bears' assessment of Urlacher's market value. From a detached and unemotional standpoint, you can make a quite reasonable argument that it was time for the Bears to move on. Urlacher was slowed by knee and hamstring injuries last year, will be 35 in May and is at his best in a defense the Bears won't be running in 2013.
But when you're talking about a franchise icon, the rules aren't quite as clear. Feelings would have been hurt no matter how the Bears proceeded. The Bears tried to slow-burn Urlacher's departure out of respect for him, but in the end he grew suspicious and is now hammering the franchise in public forums.
Quite frankly, the only smooth path to an NFL divorce is for a player to retire. More often, players want to continue their careers beyond the plans of their original team. Urlacher said Thursday that he wants to play another two or three years, and that left the Bears with several dicey choices. None of them were right or wrong. But one thing is clear: The one they chose didn't sit well with the player.