Should he stay or should he go?
That is the question facing Chicago Bears management and franchise linebacker Brian Urlacher. By all accounts, Urlacher wants to remain a Bear, but new head coach Marc Trestman would not say much past that during a press conference held earlier in the week. Assuming Urlacher is ready to don the Bears' navy blue and orange again in 2013, management is left to decide if the multiple pro-bowler will in fact return to Chicago.
The answer is simple: yes, the Bears should re-sign Urlacher. The explanation is sticky.
Many holes are evident on the Bears' roster. At a conservative glance, the team is in desperate need of two offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a tight end. Those concerns are overlooking the need to begin rebuilding the ever-aging defense by drafting linebackers and cornerbacks. Free agency is also going to be an issue, with first-time pro-bowler Henry Melton being a free agent, not to mention that the Bears cannot address all their needs in the draft. There are numerous areas that the Bears need to spend money on, and this will likely dictate whether or not Urlacher remains a Bear.
Priorities first; the Bears need to sign Melton. Since the signing of Julius Peppers, the Bears have needed a lineman capable of making teams pay for doubling Peppers. Finally, Melton emerged this season as an impact player on the defensive line. Although the Bears do have some depth at that position, with Corey Wootton and Stephen Paea also showing signs of being able to contribute consistently, with the rest of the defense aging, solidifying the defensive line and keeping it as a strength could go a long way- especially in the next few years as the Bears transition to the Marc Trestman era.
I would lean towards spending the money on Melton over Urlacher at this point; if re-signing Urlacher means losing Melton, the Bears should bet on Melton.
Sticking with the "priorities first" theme, some of the Bears' needs on offensive should be a higher priority than Urlacher returning. In a perfect world, the Bears would draft a receiver with the ability to contribute immediately, and add a burner at the position through free agency. Likewise, they would add a top-round talent for the offensive line, as well as with a pick later in the draft. Then, GM Phil Emery should go out and sign someone with some veteran experience to also add to the O-line mix. Finally, the Bears could then look to land a tight end with some size who can catch the ball and block from time to time. Obviously, not all of this can happen.
As long as the Bears can add a minimum of two new players to the offensive line and address the tight end position and still bring Urlacher back, I'm on board. This may be asking a bit much, but an impact tight end could be more valuable to Jay Cutler than another wide receiver, and the needs on offensive line are not debatable. A new wide receiver would be great, but I'd count on the development and improvement of Earl Bennet over Kellan Davis. The Bears are obviously putting a new emphasis on offense with the hire of Trestman, so two lineman and a tight end are musts. If Emery can make that happen while still retaining Urlacher, Chicago should jump at the chance to have him back.
The third stipulation for me if Urlacher were to return would be the contract. While I doubt the Bears legend would like to sign a one-year deal, that really would be in the team's best interests. However, again, the ideal is admittedly a bit unrealistic. That being said, I would not want to see Urlacher get a three-year deal. With his years and injuries piling up, locking into a three-year deal with Urlacher is simply too much of a risky investment. Give him a two-year deal, at a reasonable yet respectable salary, and hope injuries or lack of production do not stop Urlacher from commanding your defense as you attempt to rebuild it over the next two seasons.
Such a deal would seem to be in both parties' best interests. Emery would buy himself some time to acquire young talent at the linebacker position, and Urlacher would theoretically know he would finish his career wearing only Bears jerseys.
Injuries aside, the linebacker has still been productive over his latter seasons, and he was once again leading the team in tackles at the time of his 2012 injury. Finding someone to replace what Urlacher still is capable of doing would be a harder task than it might otherwise seem. If Urlacher demands too much, handcuffing the team from addressing other necessities, then the Bears should pass on him and roll the dice with Nick Roach or an acquisition.
The window is closing on this era of Bears defense, as well as Urlacher himself, but there is still enough time and talent left to believe that its still possible to cash in on it... but only at the right price and order of priority.