Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was on the radio recently and made it clear: He wants to play in 2013, and he would prefer to end his career as a Chicago Bear.
The real question is: Should the Bears make it happen?
Complicating everything is the very real lack of cap space the team faces as we head into the NFL offseason.
You or I could live off $13.3 million for a very long time, but for an NFL franchise, that's not much money.
So at the end of the day, it will come down to money. What will Urlacher want and—to put a fine point on it—can they get him cheaply?
As the team and Urlacher haven't had any contact about a new contract (according to the linked interview), one can surmise that Urlacher isn't tremendously high on their priority list.
He becomes a free agent after the Super Bowl, so unless we hear something significant before then, the team appears content to let him test the waters in free agency as they figure out their end.
The bottom line is that if he wants a significant amount of money, he will not be back in Chicago.
Aside from monetary considerations, does it make sense to bring Urlacher back? Considering the injury issues which plagued him this season, Urlacher actually had a fairly productive year. It's clear he has at least a little left in the tank and could contribute to both production on the field as well as grooming a successor.
At the end of the day, we know Urlacher is just about done, and while you might be able to reproduce his statistical numbers, you can't easily do so with the intangibles he brings to the field.
Having him around a year to teach what he does to the next man up—be it a free agent, someone on the team now or a draft prospect—would be invaluable.
Urlacher is far more than a body tackling ball-carriers and sacking quarterbacks. On the field, he is the player who adjusts the defense based on what he sees the offense doing. He's the guy who helps disguise the intentions of the defense in the first place. Urlacher is a master at reading and reacting pre-snap.
Losing that will be difficult to overcome—which we saw when Nick Roach replaced him late in the season.
Having Urlacher around for another year will help greatly in that transition.
It would also help keep some consistency as we move from the Lovie Smith era to the Marc Trestman era.
The defense has—at the moment—been left alone, but we've already had coaching changes. We could see wholesale changes in scheme and strategy, but I think it more likely that as Trestman tries to get the offense firing on all cylinders, he leaves the defense (mostly) alone.
After all, if it ain't broke...
Which brings me back to continuity and consistency.
There are other important leaders on the defense—Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs spring to mind—but Urlacher is a Bear through and through. Keeping him in house will help the defense stay focused and stable as changes happen elsewhere.
Brian Urlacher doesn't have much more time in his career, and there are compelling arguments for letting him move on.
If he's willing to be reasonable in his contract demands and able to contribute to the transition to a younger defense, the team should do everything it can to allow him to ride off into the sunset in a Bears uniform.
In the end, I think both sides see the value in that and get it done.
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