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Hey, Lance—life in the NFL just isn’t fair sometimes

Linebacker Lance Briggs is hoping thBears might restructure his contract. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times Media

Linebacker Lance Briggs is hoping that the Bears might restructure his contract. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 29, 2011 1:29PM

I’m all for Lance Briggs getting every penny he deserves — as long as he gets it from Cedric Benson, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna.

The Bears invested more than $30 million in those three players, and when all three crapped out the Bears got not one red cent back. Lance Briggs ought to think about that the next time he tries to convince us the NFL salary structure is unfairly tilted in favor of the National Football League.

So before Lance gets on his soapbox — assuming he’ll talk to the rest of the media this season — and lectures us about the inequity that justifies his selfish contract gambit, let me pre-emptively argue that it is pure folly.

The NFL deserves many of the most vicious criticisms thrown its way. It is rife with hypocrisy, cold-hearted corporatism and greed. It has a shameful record of taking care of the players who helped make it what it is today. But that’s not all the NFL is. So don’t use that reputation of the league as a heartless monolith to sell the idea that the NFL salary structure is a one-way street, where players who outperform their contract are stuck with their deal, while the underperforming player can be cut because they have non-guaranteed contracts.

It’s a specious argument. For one thing, any NFL long-term contract contains guaranteed bonus money (most of which would not exist if salaries were guaranteed). When Briggs signed his six-year, $36 million contract in 2008, he received a $4 million signing bonus and an additional $9 million in roster bonuses. If the Bears cut him tomorrow, they don’t have to pay him the $16 million in salary left on his deal, but they can’t touch one dime of the nearly $13 million in bonuses he’s received. What a tough deal for these guys. Those cold, cruel Oakland Raiders dumped Jamarcus Russell with three years and nearly $22 million in salary left on his contract — all he got out of the deal was $39 million for three years work.

The Bears operate in dysfunctional ways on several levels. But fair is fair. If we’re going to blame them for overpaying Taylor and Manumaleuna last year, we can’t also blame them for underpaying Matt Forte. And we sure can’t blame them for signing Briggs to a market-value contract in 2008 that makes Briggs a bargain this year. You win some, you lose some. Briggs and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, didn’t think this scenario might ensue when they signed the deal three years ago? Shame on them, not the Bears.

Considering the fact that the Bears caved in to Brian Urlacher’s demand for more money two years ago, it would be prudent for the Bears to flip Briggs’ salaries for 2011 ($3.65 million) and 2013 ($6.25 million). It would ostensibly increase the guaranteed money by $2.6 million. And the Bears have the cap space to do it.

(And the Urlacher extension doesn’t necessarily obligate the Bears to give in to Briggs. While Briggs might be Urlacher’s equal today, over the course of their careers to date, Urlacher has made a significantly bigger impact on the Bears and the NFL.)

Of course, if the Bears were that magnanimous and sensible, Olin Kreutz would still be at center and the Bears would have given the Baltimore Ravens their fourth-round draft pick last April. The Bears just don’t operate like that. But the fact of the matter is they’ve taken care of Briggs over the course of his career — they’ve paid him more than $30 million in his eight seasons. Briggs just hasn’t been at the right place at the right time to be treated like a king. More than likely, he’ll have to learn to live with that. It’s part of being a Bear. Believe it or not, there are worse fates in the NFL, and certainly outside of it.

Unfortunately, this already is a distraction the Bears don’t need. The season opener is 13 days away. It’s time for Lance Briggs to shut up and play. It’s a little disconcerting that he should be telling us that — not the other way around.

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