Fans in Chicago love Brian Urlacher.
He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000, NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, and has been arguably the best inside linebacker of his generation not-named-Ray Lewis.
Urlacher's #54 has sold more jerseys in this town than anyone, perhaps even including the great Walter Payton. He's been the heart, and brain, of some exciting defensive groups that never had an adequate offense to compliment them. It was more because of Urlacher and the defense (and Devin Hester) that the Bears appeared in the Super Bowl than anything Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman or the offense contributed.
But now, it appears the end is in sight.
And it ain't pretty.
After Sunday's loss - the fifth in six games for the Bears - Urlacher ripped into fans for booing the team and the media for questioning his head coach, Lovie Smith. Now, fans and media members are ripping into the future Hall of Famer for not caring enough about the fans that paid his salary and media that built him into iconic status on the lakefront.
Urlacher's comments shouldn't surprise anyone.
He has to love Lovie Smith.
Lovie's his best - maybe only - chance at returning to Chicago in 2013.
Urlacher's current contract ends when the 2012 season comes to a close; he is one of the hard decisions new GM Phil Emery will have to make between January and the draft in April.
Let's emphasize the word new in front of GM Phil Emery one more time.
No longer is Jerry Angelo blindly writing checks at Halas Hall. While some might still doubt the direction of the organization as long as the McCaskeys are in charge, one of my greatest criticisms of Angelo was that he took too long to cut ties with players he had invested in. Indeed, Angelo knew too well that his legacy as a general manager was tied to the players he drafted or paid, and he over-committed both in term and dollars to mistakes.
Emery will have a significant opportunity to change the course of the franchise after this season. The Bears have some major free agents this year, including Urlacher, and a legitimate case has been made that a coaching change could be in order.
Reality is pretty simple: if Lovie stays, especially in a win-or-go-home scenario, Urlacher's odds of staying in Chicago increase exponentially. If Lovie goes, a new coaching staff would likely implement a new defensive scheme. There's also a good chance a new scheme and new coaches would want an inside/middle linebacker that isn't going to be 35 when the 2013 season begins.
So of course Urlacher is going to defend Lovie. The Bears not offering him a new contract expedites the conversation he needs to have with himself about retirement.
As a big fan of Urlacher's, I hope we haven't seen the last of him. He's treated fans to spectacular linebacker play for over a decade, and in spite of his recent words I will always respect the way he played for the Bears. But if not making the playoffs affords Emery the ability to make some tough decisions - including the departure of Urlacher - then that might be best for the fans, media and the organization itself.