The Chicago Bears face a host of decisions about re-signing potential free agents this offseason, none bigger than the question of what to do about Brian Urlacher. The career Bear and eight-time Pro Bowler will turn 35 in May, and a series of injuries have raised serious questions about how much he has left in the tank.
Unlike many aging stars, though, Urlacher appears to recognize that he’s no longer the player who recorded 93 tackles and three interceptions in his last All-Pro season in 2006. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Urlacher acknowledged in a radio interview “when you look at my age and everything, it’s going to be hard not to give [the Bears] a discount. I’m not going to make what I was making in the past.”
Urlacher also commented “Chicago is my home…So I want to be there and hopefully we can work something out.”
Had Urlacher insisted on another contract pegged to the value of the player he used to be, the Bears would’ve had little choice but to cut him loose. Given his willingness to take a pay cut, though, it’s hard to see a reason for Chicago not to re-sign him.
The most obvious objection would be that, with Urlacher’s history of injuries, he can’t be counted on for anything resembling 16 games anymore. However, 10 or 12 games of Brian Urlacher is still better than what the Bears would be likely to get from any other affordable middle linebacker in the free-agent market.
Urlacher knows Chicago’s defense inside and out, and the likelihood is that new coordinator Mel Tucker isn’t going to mess with the part of this team that isn’t broken. The 13-year vet is also an unparalleled leader, not to mention being better in pass coverage than most middle ‘backers of any age.
Chicago absolutely needs to groom a replacement for the aging star, but that’s much easier done with Urlacher around as a mentor. If the Bears can find a promising candidate in this spring’s draft, so much the better, but by retaining Urlacher, they avoid forcing themselves to acquire a game-ready successor this offseason.
As another, not inconsiderable, bonus to keeping Urlacher in the fold, the Bears would score some points with frequently-disgruntled Lance Briggs. Unlike Urlacher, Briggs is still a Pro Bowl contributor on the field, and he’s expressed a strong preference for keeping his long-time running mate in the lineup.
Brian Urlacher isn’t going to make the difference between missing the playoffs and going to the Super Bowl, but neither is any other potential middle linebacker the Bears might start in 2013. With a reasonable price tag, Urlacher (even with his injury history) is the right man for the job in the immediate future.