Urlacher, Bears part ways after LB refuses to accept team’s ‘ultimatum’
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org March 20, 2013 10:16PM
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Updated: April 22, 2013 12:33PM
PHOENIX — At a breakfast Wednesday in the ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore, Bears coach Marc Trestman provided the strongest indication yet that the Brian Urlacher era would continue.
But by dinnertime, the Bears issued a statement effectively ending his 13-year run with the team.
“We were unable to reach an agreement with Brian, and both sides have decided to move forward,” general manager Phil Emery said in a statement. “Brian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade.
“He showed great leadership and helped develop a winning culture over his time with the Bears. We appreciate all he has given our team, on and off the field. Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears.”
So what changed?
Urlacher’s agent gave the Bears some general contract parameters March 7. Days later, the Bears responded with a one-year contract worth up to $2 million, with $1 million guaranteed, according to a league source.
That offer never changed.
On Wednesday, Urlacher’s agents made clear that proposal wouldn’t work, and the Bears issued the statement in the early evening effectively ending his tenure.
“It wasn’t even an offer, it was an ultimatum,” Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune. “I feel like I’m a decent football player still. It was insulting, somewhat of a slap in the face.”
The Bears didn’t have an abundance of salary-cap space, and there were creative ways to craft a contract so the cap number would be around $2 million. Incentives — which don’t count until after the season — were an option as well as a longer-term deal so the cap hit of the guaranteed money could be spread into next season or beyond.
But the Bears didn’t budge, with a source suggesting they went through the motions.
“They didn’t want him back,” the source said.
Urlacher isn’t ready to retire, a source said.
“I’m disappointed,” he told WBBM. “The No. 1 thing is my teammates. I’m going to miss them the most. The coaching staff I don’t know, so that’s not a big deal to me, either, only if I had the other coaches I wanted to play for. So that’s not a big deal for me.”
Urlacher said he’s not surprised.
“I kind of had a feeling this whole offseason with the way the whole thing was being handled,” he said. “We made an offer early and never heard back from them. Then they made an offer, and we responded to their offer, and it was more like an ultimatum. It was, ‘Sign this contract or we’re going to move on.’ I didn’t feel like that was the direction I wanted to go. That’s all there is to it.”
Last season, Urlacher was paid $8 million. It’s believed he would’ve been open to a deal in the $3 million to $4 million range, but the Bears wouldn’t consider that.
In 2011, linebacker Takeo Spikes signed a three-year, $9 million contract that included a $2.1 million signing bonus. The salary cap hit on the first year was $2.25 million.
Urlacher, 34, was the ninth overall pick in 2000. He started 180 of the 182 games he played for the Bears and was selected to eight Pro Bowls.
“Over the last 13 years, Brian Urlacher has been an outstanding player, teammate, leader and face of our franchise,” chairman George McCaskey said. “As Bears fans, we have been lucky to have such a humble superstar represent our city.
‘‘He embodies the same characteristics displayed by the Bears’ all-time greats who played before him, and he will eventually join many of them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We thank Brian for all he has given our team and our city. He will always be a part of the Bears family. We wish him the very best.”
The market for Urlacher is unclear.
The Dallas Cowboys were widely expected to be a possible landing spot because former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli headed there after Lovie Smith was fired.
But Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones strongly indicated his team wouldn’t be a landing spot for Urlacher.
“He has a history with Rod, so we’ve gotten a good indication what that’s all about there. You’re talking about a Hall of Fame player here, an Urlacher. You don’t ever dismiss Hall of Famers in my book,” Jones said at the NFL owners meetings Monday afternoon. “But, obviously, it’d be difficult. He plays what Sean [Lee] plays, and to move everything around for a year doesn’t really make a lot of sense. But at the same time, you don’t ever rule it out.”