Brian Urlacher must embrace his football mortality.
He's not the same player who terrorized NFL offenses for over a decade. His body has betrayed him, and he won't see the field in 2013 unless he's willing to accept a short-term contract that doesn't give him much guaranteed money.
That's not the message a player of Urlacher's pedigree wants to hear, but it's the harsh reality of what he faces in 2013.
The veteran linebacker struggled with knee and hamstring problems throughout the 2012 season. Even before the season began, the Chicago Bears captain missed significant practice time with his team, both in OTAs and during training camp.
He missed four games during the regular season, and when he did play, he wasn't nearly as effective as he'd been throughout his career. In his 12 games, Urlacher only logged 53 solo tackles, though he did manage to make one interception, which he returned for a touchdown.
Then, the dagger.
Urlacher received an offer from Chicago that he did not appreciate—a one-year contract with a base salary of $1 million, with a $500,000 signing bonus and $500,000 workout bonus (h/t Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times).
Urlacher felt disrespected by Chicago, per Jensen's report. He was asked if the door was still open for a return to Chicago, and he replied:
It’s closed...I think their offer is off the table, and after the way they handled it, I don’t know if I want to play for them. Who knows? I may play for $2 million for someone else...I think it was just to save face, honestly. They wanted to say, "We tried to sign him back, but he didn’t want to be a Bear anymore."
At this point, $2 million might be an optimistic figure.
During his attempt to re-sign with the Bears, Urlacher tried to use the Minnesota Vikings as leverage. He spoke with the club, but nothing came of the discussion. 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero recently revealed the reason:
Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero
RE: Brian Urlacher, I was told in Phoenix that #Vikings aren't interested. Only way that *maybe* changes is if price comes way, way down.2013-3-21 15:46:59
The Arizona Cardinals were another team being talked about as a potential suitor for Urlacher's services, but Kent Somers of AZCentral.com refuted those rumors:
Kent Somers @kentsomers
#AZCardinals have no interest in Brian Urlacher from what I'm hearing2013-3-22 14:20:38
The latest scrap of news on Urlacher comes to us via ESPN's Ed Werder, who on March 25 reported:
Ed Werder @Edwerderespn
A few teams interested in Brian Urlacher but nothing imminent and no visits arranged yet #bears #nfl2013-3-25 16:23:02
Teams aren't leaping at the chance to sign him, and according to Jensen's report, 12-of-13 NFL personnel men, including four general managers, said the Bears' offer was fair.
Added an NFC personnel executive, ‘‘He’s an aging guy who can’t run. Bold move — and the right move — by [Bears GM Phil] Emery. Better to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late.’’
Urlacher was once one of the most feared defenders in the NFL. He had the size, speed, tenacity, athleticism, smarts and leadership to do it all on the football field.
Unfortunately, now he's seen as a has-been "who can't run," by at least one NFL executive.
The former All-Pro linebacker is determined to play in 2013, but he must realize that he isn't being perceived as a financially valuable player any more. There's always a chance he revitalizes his career in 2013, but nobody expects it of him, and he isn't going to get paid like a star.
That's the bottom line.
Urlacher may not be finished, but he'll need to accept a relative pittance of a salary to join an NFL roster in 2013.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78