I don't think anyone expected a tearful press conference, but if you were to ask most people two years ago how they thought the Brian Urlacher era in Chicago would come to its conclusion, you'd have to imagine that nobody would say that it'd end like this. For 13 years, Urlacher was the face of the Chicago Bears, and the franchise embraced their physically imposing middle linebacker, not just as a marketable face, but as an identity. Now that's all over.
And not only has our idea of a warm-spirited goodbye dissipated into an unseasonably cold and windy Chicago March, but some of Urlacher's goodwill is gone, too. It would have seemed impossible given everything the New Mexico punt returner turned premier 4-3 mike linebacker has done for this franchise, but Brian Urlacher is leaving a sour taste (full-blown halitosis, even) in everyone's—this columnist's at the very least—mouth.
He was never particularly enthused with the media/fan attention that being a middle linebacker in Chicago merited, routinely choosing to skirt by the waiting autograph/interview seekers at training camp in Bourbonnais from the comfort of a speeding golf cart. However, now, apparently, Brian has become awfully media-friendly as CBSChicago.com's Adam Hoge points out.
Urlacher has taken to bending anyone and everyone's ear who will listen about how insulting the Bears' offer is, and how generous he feels his offer was. He dropped this gem on the Chicago Sun-Times:
‘‘What I factored is what the Bears asked me to do. They talked about me being a great leader, a great locker room guy, but their offer didn’t live up to that. Their offer reflected me hanging out in the locker room and not [playing] any football, like being a coach. That’s a bunch of money, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not what I’m willing to play for the Bears for.’’
In other words, Brian Urlacher was hoping to be paid for what he brings to the locker room, which is fair enough, but at an original offer of two years and $11 million, it appears as if he hoped to be paid for who he was and not who he is, as well. And, quite frankly, if Brian Urlacher is the two-down linebacker who doesn't contribute on special-teams that new Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman thinks he is, he's not worth anything near that.
It's hard not to get nostalgic when referencing Brian Urlacher. He brought new life to the city and reinvigorated the "Monsters of the Midway" theme on his way to eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro selections in 13 seasons, along with a Rookie of the Year award and an AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophy in 2005.
Unfortunately, it's Phil Emery's job to remove emotion from the equation. The Bears have their backs against the wall from a salary cap perspective, and they simply can't afford to pay a soon-to-be 35 year-old aging middle linebacker $5.5 million a year.
Instead, Emery and the Chicago Bears offered Urlacher a one-year $2 million deal, and while that's admittedly far off from what Brian had hoped for, if we're being honest, it's what a soft Free Agency market dictates he's worth. Brian and his agent countered at $3.5 million for one year.
But, again, the market says that's not what Brian Urlacher is worth at this stage of his career, and 12 NFL executives polled in this piece by Sean Jensen almost unanimously agree. Urlacher and his agent were told that the offer was non-negotiable. He called it an ultimatum. He's right.
However, the thing that's really bugged me about this 48-hour media whirlwind Brian Urlacher has been on, is that he seems to think that these negotiating tactics were somehow deceitful. Yet, he admits that they were told at the time of the offer that a counteroffer wouldn't be accepted.
You could say that those negotiating tactics are terse, but that certainly doesn't seem deceitful. In fact, that's about as forthcoming as you'll see contract discussions get in the National Football League. But, apparently, Brian would have preferred if the Bears lowballed his original two year, $11 million deal with a veteran's minimum offer and then worked their way back up to $2 million just to placate Brian's ego—to make him feel like he's gained ground. Granted, it's an ego that we (as Bears fans) have created.
Now, Brian Urlacher is on record as saying that he may play for $2 million elsewhere, but not for the Bears. How spiteful does that sound?
It's easy to say, "Hey, what's a million dollars between friends?" when you consider that Brian has earned a healthy living for the past 13 years. However, a million bucks is still a million freaking dollars, and if Brian Urlacher had decided that money was so important to him that he needed to go in another direction then I'd have all the respect for him in the world.
But, he's made it clear that it's not about the million dollars. It's about feeling entitled to a certain amount of reciprocity, and even that's understandable, except we're all forgetting something rather important. The Bears essentially gifted Brian roughly $8 million on his last deal, so if anyone has built up goodwill in this relationship, it's been the Bears.
This was Brian's opportunity to reciprocate the love, not the other way around. He blew it.
Even so, had he elected to part ways amicably, this would all be quickly forgiven. After all, he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer (though the first-ballot discussion rages on) in Chicago, and he plays our favorite position. Instead, he chose to bad mouth the organization on the way out the door—forgetting entirely that this is, in fact, a business and making things remarkably personal while claiming that it isn't.
Some folks will always love Brian Urlacher because Chicago is a city full of incredibly loyal fans and many are still jaded by some of the front office missteps of the past, but for others this is enough to alter the perception of Urlacher. Every time he opens his mouth it becomes harder and harder to remember him as the scowling, satellite dish smashing athletic phenomenon that he was, and easier to remember him as the haggard, broken-down mush-mouth he's becoming.
And that's a damn shame.
Brian Urlacher deserved our never-ending adoration, emphasis on the past-tense. Now, I'm not so sure.
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