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Olin Kreutz leans toward retirement after talks with Bears fall apart

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 17:  OlKreutz #57 Chicago Bears gestures field against TampBay Buccaneers December 17 2006 Soldier Field Chicago

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 17: Olin Kreutz #57 of the Chicago Bears gestures on the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 17, 2006 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Olin Kreutz

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:21AM

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Bears or bust.

That had been free-agent center Olin Kreutz’s mentality since the Bears were ousted in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 23 at Soldier Field.

Injury-free for the first time in years, Kreutz initiated intense workouts to get in optimal shape and maximize his market value. But he only wanted to play in one place.

‘‘I did bust my tail this offseason, but I busted it thinking I was going to play for the Bears,’’ Kreutz told the Sun-Times. ‘‘The easiest way to put it is, it’s always been the Bears.’’

Asked whether he would entertain offers from other teams, Kreutz said: ‘‘Everything is a possibility right now. I would say I’m leaning more toward retirement.’’

Many factors combined to make this a difficult negotiation, a perfect storm that resulted in a conclusion no one really wanted.

Not Kreutz. Not agent Mark Bartelstein. Not Bears coach Lovie Smith. Not even general manager Jerry Angelo.

There have been intimations the Bears didn’t really want Kreutz back. But they didn’t address the center position in the NFL draft and didn’t address it via trade or signing in the first few days of free agency. The plan, Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice said Saturday, was to give the first-team snaps to Edwin Williams, an undrafted player whom the team signed off the Washington Redskins’ practice squad last season.

The Bears could have initiated negotiations with Bartelstein at 9 a.m.
Tuesday, so it’s not entirely clear why an offer — one year, $3 million — wasn’t extended until Thursday. Although Kreutz’s per-year average was close to $6 million in 2010, based on the average of the three-year, $17.5 million extension he signed in November 2006, he collected a
$3.1 million base salary last season.

The offer was rejected.

Bartelstein said Smith called him Friday and encouraged him to keep plugging away.

‘‘We’re not talking to any centers,’’ Smith said, according to Bartelstein. ‘‘We’re going to sign Olin Kreutz.’’

Smith wasn’t available for comment late Sunday.

But everything came to a head Saturday, starting with Bartelstein’s one-year, $4.8 million counteroffer.

Angelo said the Bears talked with a ‘‘potential player’’ Saturday morning, and he thought they needed to act quickly. According to three NFC personnel scouts and executives, Seattle Seahawks free agent Chris Spencer was the best of a weak crop.

Besides, Bears director of player personnel Tim Ruskell knew Spencer because he drafted him in the first round as the Seahawks’ president in 2005.

Angelo said other clubs expressed interest in Spencer, so he needed an answer from Kreutz fast.

So Angelo raised his one-year offer to $4 million — take it or leave it.

‘‘For a guy like this, who has played 13 years in the league, to draw a line in the sand?’’ Bartelstein said. ‘‘To me, it was like negotiating with a fourth-round draft pick. The ultimatum is ultimately what convinced Olin that they didn’t want him back.’’

Asked whether less than $1 million was the difference, Kreutz said: ‘‘I have more than enough money. It’s just a feeling I had from them during the negotiations.’’

By Sunday, the Bears had accelerated talks with Spencer and signed him. The deal? Two years for
$6 million, not including incentives.

‘‘Obviously, we differed in some areas in how we see fair,’’ Angelo said, ‘‘and ‘fair’ sometimes is a nebulous word.’’

For his part, Kreutz praised everyone in the Bears’ organization.

‘‘The whole organization has been great to me,’’ he said. ‘‘You definitely don’t want to leave and railroad an organization and be bitter.

‘‘Negotiations are never pretty. Usually, people meet in the middle. But we couldn’t find that middle this time. No matter what happens, I’ll be fine.’’

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