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He’s no Urlacher: Bears unlikely to give Lance Briggs new contract

BOURBONNAIS IL - AUGUST 06: Brian Urlacher #54 Lance Briggs #55 (R) Chicago Bears work out during summer training camp

BOURBONNAIS, IL - AUGUST 06: Brian Urlacher #54 and Lance Briggs #55 (R) of the Chicago Bears work out during a summer training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University on August 6, 2011 in Bourbonnais, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:28AM

Lance Briggs is not Brian Urlacher, and therein lies the problem in Briggs’ quest for another boatload of money from the Bears.

You can attribute his difficulties in this matter to whatever you want — unfairness, organizational cheapness, even racial bias — but the fact is that Urlacher was able to crowbar a contract extension out of the Bears three years ago because he was Brian Urlacher.

“Being Brian Urlacher” means being the guy who symbolizes the franchise. It means being a man with freakish speed. It means being from the same Bears linebacker lineage that produced Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.

It doesn’t matter why Urlacher is astoundingly popular. It only mattered that he was when he got the Bears to give him an $18 million extension in 2008.

Briggs doesn’t carry that kind of weight. He’s an excellent linebacker. He’s also a huge comic-book fan, so we’ll put it in terms he’ll appreciate: In Chicago, he’s more like Robin than Batman, though to Briggs’ credit, Robin didn’t get voted to six straight Pro Bowls.

Right now, Briggs is as good or better than Urlacher, but, again, it doesn’t matter. He’s not an icon, which is what Urlacher is and was and will be. If you walk around Soldier Field on game day, you’ll see lots of middle-aged men wearing No. 54 jerseys. It’s not a good look for people of that vintage, but try telling that to one of them.

Still three years left on deal

Briggs reportedly has asked for a new contract, even though he has three years left on his six-year, $36 million deal. If he doesn’t get one, he’ll demand a trade after this season, according to a published report.

Briggs almost surely will say this isn’t about Urlacher, his friend, but rather about the lesser linebackers around the NFL who have recently signed nice contracts. But it is about Urlacher as it relates to making an exception.

Urlacher is the bullet-headed face of the organization. Briggs isn’t. The Bears made an exception for Urlacher because he was Urlacher, with all the powerful meaning that goes with that. An exception normally is a one-time thing. There can’t be a Briggs exception, unless the Bears someday want a Gabe Carimi exception, a Major Wright exception or a whoever-comes-along-next exception.

Every professional sports franchise knows that, at some point, it has to draw a line when it comes to money. Otherwise, the message is that a contract doesn’t mean a thing. If it doesn’t, every player who wants more money will have reason to believe his contract is written in pencil.

And every player wants more money.

Briggs turns 31 in November. That’s an age when linebackers already are wearing down from the abuse their bodies has taken and given. The linebackers who have recently signed big contracts are younger than Briggs. Very few linebackers are better at 31 than they are at 27.

For the Bears, there doesn’t appear to be a huge downside to saying no to Briggs on a new deal, aside from having a disgruntled player on their hands, and they’re used to that with him. With his contract not scheduled to expire until after the 2013 season, he doesn’t have a lot of options, other than sitting out. The Bears don’t have an obvious replacement for him on their roster, but it’s hard to see them backing down on this one. If general manager Jerry Angelo gives in, he’s going to find many more players at his door in the next few years.

Briggs is not a victim. He’s the one who signed the contract in 2008. He’s the one who already has collected $13 million in guaranteed money from the deal. He already had been a three-time Pro Bowl selection when he signed the contract, so both sides agreed to the deal with the expectation that he was going to continue to be great. If he had then gone on to be a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year winner, he’d have a much better argument right now.

Bears made exception for No. 54

It doesn’t matter that Briggs has accomplished more than Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk, who received an $8 million signing bonus when he signed a new contract in March. That’s not how it works — or at least that’s not how it works when it comes to the Bears and any linebacker not named “Brian Urlacher.’’

What if the year was 2012 and the player demanding a new deal was Jay Cutler? Would the Bears budge with a quarterback who signed a two-year contract extension in 2009 worth $20 million in guarantees? I don’t think so. Cutler might have star power, but he’s not Urlacher. He’s doesn’t have the hold on Chicago the way Urlacher does.

In 2007, upset with having the franchise tag placed on him, Briggs said he would never play another down for the Bears. He did. A year later, he signed that six-year contract. Now he doesn’t like that contract.

This time, he might not want to get his hopes up for a new deal. Or he might want to change his name to Urlacher.

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