The Bears were right.
Maybe it was “lip service”, as Brian Urlacher said. Call it what you will, but by remaining firm with their offer of one year, $2 million, the Chicago Bears administration did the best thing for their organization from both a financial and performance standpoint.
Too many teams wait too long to cut ties with guys and overpay them out of loyalty. Those teams don’t compete for championships. If anything, the Bears were late in letting Urlacher go. Ideally, you get rid of a guy before he starts to decline, not after. The hard part is trying to figure out when a player’s best days are behind him.
The cold hard facts for Urlacher and his passionate fans are as follows: Urlacher will be 35 years old when the 2013 season starts. He has played 14 seasons — three of them injury shortened — at arguably the games most violent position. His stats are telling the only story you need to know.
During Urlacher’s first eight seasons, he never averaged less than 7.25 tackles per game. In his ninth season, his production dipped to less than six tackles per game. He followed up that season by playing only one game during the 2009 campaign and bouncing back in 2010 to average over 7.8 tackles a game. During the last two seasons, however, Brian Urlacher averaged barely above six tackles per game.
Why all the focus on tackles? Because he plays middle linebacker. His job is to be the most prolific tackler on the field.
Given this information, it’s hard to label Urlacher’s initial contract request of 2 years, $11.5 million as anything but preposterous — even if it was just his first proposal.
Consider this: Navorro Bowman is ten years younger than Urlacher and one of the best linebackers in the game today. He averaged over 9.3 tackles a game for the 49ers during the 2012 season — two more than Urlacher did during his first eight seasons — all while playing next to perhaps the best inside linebacker in the game, Patrick Willis.
In November, San Francisco signed Bowman to a 7-year deal for $46.37 million. The bulk of it came in a signing bonus, but it averages out to just over $6.6 million a year — less than one million dollars more per year than Urlacher’s initial request.
Excuse the Bears’ administration for not giving Urlacher’s proposal a fair shake in negotiations. I would have laughed at him. Credit them for not doing so.
Two million dollars a year for a broken down middle linebacker in his mid-30’s is more than fair compensation. It’s unfortunate that Urlacher and his agent did not feel that way. Urlacher could have spent the remainder of his career in a Bears uniform and left the game with honor in front of one of the greatest fanbases in all of professional sports.
Instead, he’ll sign on with some other team, perhaps one desperate enough to pay him what he wants, and end up fighting for playing time — only to have what should have been a celebrated retirement end up as a blip on the scroll across the bottom of your TV during a pro bowling tournament.
Simply put, Brian Urlacher’s pride and greed may have cost him his legacy.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON MARCH 22, 2013