Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brian's Swan Song Strikes a Discordant Note, as Urlacher and the Bears Go Their Own Way

I really don't know if Brian Urlacher is physically capable of ever again playing middle linebacker at a level that would make him a defensive asset rather than a liability.

Following a season that was plagued--and prematurely ended--by injuries, it's entirely possible that neither Urlacher himself nor the Chicago Bears really know the answer to that question.

While I won't apologize for having a sentimental side when it comes to sports, I realize--as per the Cubs' ill-fated decision to bring Kerry Wood back last season--that emotion cannot much matter when it comes to personnel decisions in professional sports, which is, of course, a business.

So whether the Bears believe that, at age 35, Urlacher's skills have eroded too egregiously, that he would be an unnecessary distraction during Coach Marc Trestman's first season or that it's just smarter to develop a young linebacker in a year unlikely to end with the hoisting of the Lombardi trophy, I can't--from a football logic perspective--too convincingly fault the Bears for parting company with the future Hall of Famer.

But as a fan, I don't like it.

First of all, while I have avidly watched the Bears my entire conscious life, I don't pretend to have the wherewithal to intelligently assess Urlacher's play in 2012 and how severely it may have diminished from his dominance in prior seasons. But it seems to me that the Bears' defense last year was pretty damn good, and with Urlacher in the central role--if no longer the best player; that would be Julius Peppers--it stands to reason that he couldn't have been all that bad.

Now I realize that leadership, locker room popularity, reputation, defensive play calling and whatever else ardent supporters ascribe to Urlacher only go so far. None of the above really matters if a linebacker's ability to run and tackle are severely compromised.

But with Urlacher's backup, Nick Roach, having signed with the Raiders, the jury still out on whether 2012 #1 pick Shea McClellin can play middle linebacker and my preference that the Bears not bother with Manti Te'o, unless GM Phil Emery can find a stud linebacker in the draft--where offensive line help would seem a greater priority--I don't readily see the great detriment in bringing Brian Urlacher back for one last season.

Photo Credit: Chris Sweda/Tribune Photo
So for the Bears to offer him a 1-year, $2 million contract--with only half guaranteed--after he made $7.5 million last season, does seem, as Urlacher has stated, like a "slap in the face."

It appears evident, as Dan Bernstein of the Boers & Bernstein show on The Score 670 suggested in a Tweet, that the "Bears lowball to did its job. They save face while getting the fresh start they wanted all along (despite public comments)."

Bernstein may well be right, but I'm not sure of the necessity nor propriety of the "job."

Urlacher himself seems to have seen right through it, telling the Tribune's Vaughn McClure, "I just wish they would have said, 'We don't want you back.' I think this whole thing is just about them saving face and trying to say that they made a run at me."

If the Bears no longer wanted Urlacher, as their ridiculously low offer appears to attest, why not just come out and say "We thank Brian for his phenomenal service to date. It is with tremendous respect that we are opting to move forward in a different direction."

Over. Done. Honest. Gracious. And devoid of what the Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom called "the sloppy, squirrely, deceitful manner the Bears went about it."

Personally, I would have preferred to have seen Urlacher stay in a Bears uniform. But if it was time for him to go--as the great George Harrison once sang, "All things must pass"--it shouldn't have gone down like this.

And as a Bears fan--though not a season ticket holder, tailgater nor sports radio caller--I want to publicly state that I relished watching Brian Urlacher, and loved what he did for the Bears and for the city of Chicago since arriving from New Mexico in 2000.

Though I respect their enhanced perspectives, I have been puzzled by intimations from Rosenbloom, Bernstein, Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald (who filled in for Terry Boers the other day) and another Herald sportswriter, Mike Imrem, that Urlacher was largely unbeloved by fans, especially in relation to his stature as a player and the 'face of the franchise.'

I don't know; I only went to a few games at Soldier Field during Urlacher's tenure as a Bear, but it seemed to me that any fans decked out in team colors were overwhelmingly wearing an Urlacher 54 jersey.

If he wasn't beloved, the fans sure had a funny way of showing it.

On Facebook yesterday, a friend of mine--a former Bostonian and hardcore Patriots fan--posted that just last season he bought a Bears jersey. And like me, several years earlier, his choice was Urlacher.

Seems to me, that if the Bears really wanted Urlacher back, the shared revenues on Urlacher jersey sales for another year would have justified bumping $2 million to $3 million, which Brian said he likely would have taken.

I get that Urlacher could be surly and uncooperative with the media; this may explain some of the columns and comments I alluded to above. And I realize that he criticized the fans for booing the Bears and belittled the importance of their opinion after the Bears fired Lovie Smith.

I'm not condoning this; I just don't really care.

Who knows if I would want Brian Urlacher to be my best man? I doubt it will ever come up. But for the better part of 13 years, he was the best thing about the Chicago Bears.

Whatever his flaws, whatever his ongoing on-the-field capabilities, I appreciated him, I thank him and I think he deserved better.

No comments: