MORRISSEY: Urlacher, Smith likely to return; it’s the Bears’ way
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com December 5, 2012 9:00PM
Updated: January 7, 2013 1:29PM
Whether or not Brian Urlacher returns from a hamstring injury this year, he’ll be a Bear next season. That comes from highly placed sources inside my head.
There continues to be talk that this might be The End for Urlacher in Chicago, but the chatter fails to take into consideration the organization’s deep aversion to change.
If there’s an easy route, one devoid of uncomfortable decisions, the McCaskeys will always steer the family Studebaker in that direction.
So, no, I don’t believe Urlacher is going anywhere, for the same reason I don’t believe coach Lovie Smith is going anywhere, even if the Bears fail to make the playoffs after their 7-1 start.
The idea that the team would allow a beloved future Hall of Famer to walk via free agency? No. Not when it thinks there are fans’ heartstrings to pluck. And not when the market for beaten-up, 34-year-old linebackers figures to be less than vibrant.
Ah, but you ask, what about the blast of fresh air that is general manager Phil Emery? Won’t he have the coldhearted business sense to make the right decision?
You mean the guy who thought the offensive line didn’t need any help this season?
The flaw in all of this is the idea that Emery has autonomy. I’ll believe it when push comes to shoving Lovie out the door. Until then, I’ll believe he’ll do what everybody else does when a major decision needs to be made at Halas Hall: He’ll look to president Ted Phillips, who will look to chairman George McCaskey, who will look to family matriarch Virginia McCaskey, who will look beatifically on Lovie and Brian and not want to lose her “kids.’’
So I see Lovie as the Bears’ coach until they cart his cold body out of Lake Forest. In death as in life, he’ll decline comment on any medical issues.
And I see a one- or two-year contract ahead for Urlacher, even though he’s a ghost of the player he used to be.
That brings us to the Bears’ current situation, which is about as close to dire as can be for an 8-4 team. With all the handwringing that has been going on over Urlacher’s play this season, how much of a drop-off can Nick Roach possibly be at middle linebacker? He’s certainly faster than Urlacher. Will that speed make up for the knowledge and experience Urlacher brings? I don’t know. I just know Urlacher isn’t Urlacher anymore.
If you’ve seen him lurch around the football field this season, you know that to be true.
This is the best way to sum up Urlacher’s play this season, as muddled as it might sound:
◆ I’m not sure the Bears were going to make the playoffs with him on the field, not after the way the defense looked in the dispiriting loss to the Seahawks on Sunday.
◆ I’m not sure the Bears will miss the playoffs with Roach starting in Urlacher’s place.
And that brings us back to Smith, who’s in his ninth year as the Bears’ coach. If they don’t make it to the postseason, it will be the fifth time in the last six seasons they failed to do so.
Should that happen, you can bet Smith won’t be as tight-lipped about injuries as he normally is. He’ll mention the game and a half Jay Cutler missed because of a concussion. He’ll bring up the injuries to Urlacher, Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, Tim Jennings and the others.
To which management should say, “You mean just like every NFL team?’’
The last time the Bears won a Super Bowl was the 1985 season. Perhaps you’re aware of that. Barring some miracle, this will be the 27th season without another championship. This franchise should be better.
The Bears are in second place in the NFC North (the Packers have the tiebreaker), and I can’t remember a time when an 8-4 record felt so fragile. I can’t remember a defense looking so old so fast. All those turnovers for touchdowns earlier in the season look like a masking agent.
The year has gone exactly the way many of us saw it going. The Bears feasted on the empty calories of the Jaguars and Titans and lost to every good team they faced. They finish with Minnesota (6-6), Green Bay (8-4), Arizona (4-8) and Detroit (4-8).
Added up, what does it mean? More of the same for next season, I’m afraid.