Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has forged a lasting memory with Chicago Bears fans due to the longevity and high level of performance over his career. Undoubtedly, the majority of Bears fans will react strongly to the mere suggestion that this is the right time to let Urlacher walk away in free agency.
We have to be crazy to even consider this idea, as it is bordering on pure blasphemy, right?
After all, Urlacher is one of the most decorated Bears in franchise history. He has been named to five NFL All-Pro teams, eight Pro Bowl teams and was elected to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. He was the 2005 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the 2000 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Urlacher holds the Bears franchise record for the most tackles in team history.
During his career, Urlacher has tallied an impressive 1,353 tackles, 41.5 sacks and has created a combined 50 turnovers (between interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries). Those kind of career stats are what most NFL linebackers can only dream about.
Urlacher will likely wind up being enshrined in Canton, Ohio, befitting for a player that has meant so much to an organization that is known for playing tough, physical defense.
So now that we have laid out a number of superlatives for why Urlacher is so special and revered, it is time to tell it like it is.
These are the six reasons why the Bears need to move on from Urlacher and turn the page.
1.) The 2013 season marks a sweeping change in the Chicago Bears organization.
A number of big changes have hit the Bears organization in 2013. Longtime head coach Lovie Smith and the Bears have parted company. Smith failed to deliver on guiding the Bears to the playoffs far too often, as the Bears missed out on postseason play five times in the last six years.
Whenever you have a change with the head coach, a number of changes occur throughout the team.
The coordinators, assistant coaches and ultimately the players are impacted with Smith's departure. Urlacher's defensive coordinator for the last three years, Rod Marinelli, left to become the defensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Marc Trestman replaced Smith as head coach and Mel Tucker was named as the new defensive coordinator.
Trestman and Tucker are under no obligations to Urlacher as they are looking to make their own mark in Chicago. They are not beholding to Urlacher in any way.
Since Urlacher is a free agent, his fate rests in the hands of general manager Phil Emery. Emery had just replaced longtime Bears GM Jerry Angelo in 2012, so Urlacher lost a key supporter and contact when Angelo was replaced.
Urlacher's old coach, defensive coordinator and general manager are gone. Based on what kind of offers Urlacher receives in free agency, this might be the right time for him to move on as well.
In an article by Kevin Seifert of ESPN on the NFL Nation Blog, Seifert offered that the new coaching change is the perfect time and excuse for the Bears and Urlacher to part ways. Between a bad knee, being ranked as just the 44th-best inside linebacker in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus and turning 35 years old were key reasons Seifert felt made the parting justifiable.
One other key element is that Urlacher was the featured player in the defense that Smith installed. Under Tucker, that isn't necessarily the case, which diminishes the importance of Urlacher to the team.
2.) The Bears realize that Urlacher isn't the player he used to be and he is on his last legs.
In the 2012 season, Urlacher earned $7.5 million. But according to an article by Chris Boden of CSN Chicago, the Bears will only be looking to offer the free agent half of that amount for 2013. If that is the extent of the Bears offer, other teams could easily step in and offer him much more.
In an episode on NFL Network's Total Access Tuesday night, Warren Sapp was asked about Urlacher's chances to play in 2013. Sapp replied that Urlacher has lost his speed, which had always allowed him to be a sideline-to-sideline kind of player. Once the speed goes, teams will look to take advantage of Urlacher with younger, faster players.
Sapp also went on to say that he wasn't overly fond of the Bears defensive tackles' ability to protect Urlacher like they had in the past. Sapp concluded that it is time for Urlacher to hang 'em up and call it a career.
3.) Urlacher's performance is coming up short in some important categories.
Urlacher's performance has taken a noticeable dip in recent years. Here are a few interesting statistics that paint a different story about how effective Urlacher has been in recent years.
Out of the last five years, Urlacher has led the team in tackles one time, which was 2010. Even though he has amassed 41.5 sacks in his career, Urlacher hasn't come up with any sacks in four of the last five years.
In the past six years combined, Urlacher has only forced a grand total of four fumbles. When you consider that Urlacher was involved in 514 tackles over that span, and just four of them resulted in a fumble, you have to wonder if somebody else could be more effective for the team.
Another way to look at it is that Urlacher's tackles in the last six years result in a fumble less than one percent of the time. Compare that to what Chicago corner Charles Tillman accomplished in 2012 by forcing 10 fumbles in just 85 total tackles. Tillman forced a fumble 11.76 percent of the time last year.
For a player that has such a reputation for being a big hitter, the numbers don't lie. Urlacher's overall effectiveness and ability to be a difference-maker isn't what it used to be. With every passing season, that performance level will only continue to fade until he is a shell of his former self.
4.) The Bears failure to engage in contract negotiations is a telling reaction to how much value they currently place on Urlacher.
According to a Twitter update from Lou Canellis of Fox 32, Urlacher's agents made the Bears a proposal offer on March 7 and were awaiting some kind of a reply from the team. When this article went to publication, his agents have still not had any kind of reply back from the team. You can read into that statement however you see fit.
Lou Canellis FOX 32 @LouCanellis
according to a source @BUrlacher54 agents made an offer to the #bears this morning, awaiting team's counter offer3/8/2013, 1:15:19 AM
Free agency has already started, and the Bears failed to secure Urlacher to a new contract. For any teams around the league that has any kind of interest in the free agent, this represents a green light. The lack of action by Chicago will prompt teams to step up their approach to try to lure Urlacher away from the Bears.
A story by Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports claims that the Dallas Cowboys are one team that has expressed some interest in Urlacher. Silver wrote that the Cowboys were just one of several teams that were talking to Urlacher's agents. Silver was aware of the lack of urgency that the Bears were showing Urlacher.
As teams around the league lose linebackers due to free agency or to salary cap issues, Urlacher may appeal to them as an attractive one-year stop-gap option.
Another example of a team that could be interested is the Baltimore Ravens. They have been losing linebackers left and right. At what point would they reach out to Urlacher to see if he is interested in playing for the defending Super Bowl champions?
5.) For his years of service to the team, the Bears owe it to Urlacher to let him know what their intentions are.
The last thing you want to do with a franchise player that is headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is give him a reason to be angry with his old team. Each day that passes during free agency means that if the Bears don't intend to bring Urlacher back, they are holding him up from finding gainful employment with another team.
Obviously, the Bears aren't in the customer service business, but you would like to think that with everything that Urlacher has accomplished, and what he means to the franchise and the fans, that the team would treat him better than this.
6.) If the Bears aren't careful, they could lose both Urlacher and his backup Nick Roach at the same time.
While Urlacher and his camp are waiting for an answer from Chicago, another development is going on behind the scenes.
Nick Roach was the backup for Urlacher in 2012, who stepped in to start when Urlacher wasn't able to play in the last four games of the season.
In an article by Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times, word is that up to 10 teams have expressed a degree of interest in talking to Roach, as the versatile linebacker can play either inside or outside.
Roach set up his first visit with the Oakland Raiders, so the wheel is already in motion for the free agent. If the Bears don't play their cards correctly, they could wind up being short two linebackers. If the Bears let Urlacher know they don't want to sign him, that might be what Roach needs to hear to return to the Bears for 2013.
This situation is one that is played out in professional team sports every year. Whether it is in the NFL, NHL, NBA or MLB, athletes struggle to find the right time to call it a career.
How far does an athlete's performance have to slip before he knows it is time to go? Or does he need his employer to tell him the truth that he doesn't want to believe for himself?
We can't claim to know what is best for Urlacher right now, or what is the right decision for him to make. Everybody knows that the NFL is a business, and based on recent results, the Bears business model needed improvement. Whether or not Urlacher is part of Chicago's new business model will be revealed soon enough.
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