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Brian Urlacher must take hefty pay cut to return to Bears

Chicago Bears v OaklRaiders

Chicago Bears v Oakland Raiders

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Updated: March 18, 2013 10:14PM



PHOENIX — The Bears repeatedly have expressed a desire to re-sign middle linebacker Brian ­Urlacher, a point reinforced Monday by team president Ted Phillips.

“We’d obviously love for Brian to retire a Bear,” Phillips told the Sun-Times, “and we’re still hopeful.”

There’s the will, but is there a way?

Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said signing Urlacher “doesn’t make sense” for his team, and four other league sources at the NFL owners meeting Monday told the Sun-Times that the Bears remain the most logical — and likely — destination for the perennial Pro Bowl player.

But the two sides still have to work out an agreement.

The Bears have $5.45 million in salary-cap space, and they likely want to bolster their depth at other positions in a buyer’s market. They kept the cap numbers of left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett low, and they need to set aside about $3 million for their draft class, although they don’t need to worry about that until they start to sign the rookies.

The Bears certainly aren’t willing to pay Urlacher the $8 million he made last season. So where is the middle ground?

There might not be one.

Two sources said Urlacher would be fortunate to command a one-year, $2 million deal based on his 2012 season and the market. On Monday, the Cincinnati Bengals re-signed middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to a two-year, $6.5 million contract that reportedly includes $2.5 million guaranteed.

But two other sources suggested the best route might be a deal similar in structure — albeit cheaper — to the two-year, $10.75 million contract the Washington Redskins gave middle linebacker London Fletcher in April 2012. Fletcher, 37, finished with 139 tackles, three sacks, 11 passes defended and five interceptions. Though he isn’t as big of a name as Urlacher, Fletcher never has missed a game in 15 seasons.

Fletcher’s 2012 cap number was $2.45 million, but his 2013 base salary inflates to a whopping $5.5 million.

What would that mean for Urlacher, who turns 35 in May?

The Bears can inflate the second year of a deal to whatever number they want because it means virtually nothing. If he gets a $2 million signing bonus, which is guaranteed, they can spread the cap hit over the duration of the deal. The veteran minimum for a player with Urlacher’s experience is $940,000. Between the proration and the base salary, the cap number is already pushing $2 million.

The Bears probably want to keep his cap number close to that. For perspective, consider that Bennett’s cap number is $1.9 million.

One option for the Bears is to allow Urlacher to make more money by reaching incentives, often based on playing time. That wouldn’t affect the salary cap until after the season.

“It’ll work itself out in time,” Phillips said. “Sometimes those things take a little longer than you’d like them to.”



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