Unhappy with the nine-year, $57 million contract he signed in 2003, Urlacher has said he won’t go to any of the Chicago Bears' offseason minicamps unless he gets a new deal. Whether he shows up at training camp is anyone’s guess.
Nobody put a gun to Urlacher’s head when he signed the deal and he and his financial people should have been able to figure that the salary cap would go up dramatically in the five years that have followed (from $75 million to $115 million). But that’s just what happened and now Urlacher wants his. Or he wants more of his.
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has offered a small (by Urlacherian standards) raise. Something that would make his salary about $18 million this year. The great Urlacher is unmoved. He wants to have a huge payday from his employers.
Angelo may not be able to pick quarterbacks, but he does know personnel. If he’s as smart as I think he is, he needs to be thinking about trading Urlacher.
He may be royalty in Chicago football lore, standing with the likes of Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary among the Bears’ dominant middle linebackers, but the truth is that he is fourth in that group and he’s not getting any better. Trading Urlacher before the 2008 season would be the best move for a Bears team that slipped dramatically in 2007 and may be even worse this year.
Why is that? Basically, there’s no offense there at all. At quarterback, it’s a battle between Tweedledum and Tweedledummer. Their given names are Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.
Running back Cedric Benson has spent his offseason getting drunk on his boat in Texas. Top receiver Bernard Berrian has gone to Minnesota, where Tavaris Jackson is a better quarterback option than Chicago’s deadly duo. Muhsin Muhammad was cut and has returned to the Carolina Panthers.
Urlacher’s trade value is high right now, even if he did have “minor” surgery on his neck during the offseason. He claims he is 100 percent and will be able to perform up to his usual standards.
That means at a Pro Bowl level. But if you’re Angelo you have to think of the players that are going on the field with Urlacher. The offense is going to be Lilliputian and that means the defense is going to be out on the field for 33 or 34 minutes a game on the average Sunday. Guys with nagging injuries are going to get hurt and the defense is going to start breaking down.
That’s simply a fact of life in the NFL. It’s usually not an overwhelming offense or a dominating defense that wins or gets a team to the playoffs. It’s balance. An offense must be balanced between run and pass. A team must be balanced between offense and defense. If a team has those elements and can also play on special teams, it can win.
Special teams aside (meaning Devin Hester, the best return specialist ever), the Bears have a woeful offense and an aging defense. Urlacher is 30 and he is not going to get any better. Trade him for three starters and two draft choices and the Bears just may find a way to rescue themselves.
Urlacher is just the kind of player the Denver Broncos could use. Denver has slipped badly in the last two years. It has no defensive identity and Urlacher could give coach Mike Shanahan the kind of take-no-prisoners player the Broncos haven’t had since Al Wilson was on a roll from 2001 through 2004.
If Shanahan was to send the Bears running back Travis Henry, wide receiver Brandon Stokley and linebacker Ian Gold along with two draft picks — including a first-rounder if the Broncos make the playoffs — it would be a trade that would work out well for both teams.
Henry may be busy off the field — he has fathered children with nine women — but he can run with the football. Stokley is a professional receiver who makes up in speed and toughness what he lacks in size. Gold is a thinking man’s linebacker who still moves well.
In addition to annoying coach Lovie Smith and Angelo, Urlacher is beginning to wear on Bears fans with his contract whine. A Chicago Sun-Times poll showed that 27 percent of Bears fans would like to see him traded and another 47 percent said they don’t want the team to pay him another nickel. Blue-collar fans are sickened at the thought of a middle linebacker who cries poor.
Urlacher, who also has an arthritic back in addition to his surgical neck, led the Bears with 123 tackles last year. He had five interceptions and five sacks and that has to make him attractive to a number of teams in the league.
Keep Urlacher around this year and he will wear out sometime around mid-November. Come next offseason, he will bring less than half of what the Bears would get in a trade right now. Move him and the Bears are one step closer to having the balance that could make them a contender in the NFC North division. Hold on to him and the team will suffer in both the short and long run.
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