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Lance Briggs off base in demanding Bears rework his contract

Lance Briggs doesn't think much Packers' Jermichael Finley. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

Lance Briggs doesn't think much of Packers' Jermichael Finley. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM



The Bears absolutely should let Lance Briggs seek a trade. At this point, it might be the only way for Briggs to find out he’s not worth as much as he thinks.

Five days after telling the Chicago Tribune, ‘‘I am not asking to be traded, nor do I want to be traded,’’ Briggs told the Bears that he wants to be traded. So much for credibility.

It takes a lot of guts to raise with no hand. But Briggs doesn’t seem to realize that everybody can see his cards.

He’s 30 going on 31. He’s injured. And he’s under contract — a six-year contract, I am compelled to point out (because somebody has to) that he and the Chicago Bears Football Club willingly signed in 2008 with the endorsement of the National Football League Players Association and the National Football League.

(Who signs a six-year contract in professional sports and doesn’t ­consider that it might become undervalued? Do these guys think these things out?)

(And for the record, when the Bears cut a player and don’t pay the non-guaranteed portion of his contract, they’re still honoring the contract. It’s a part of the deal.)

Here’s what bothers me most about Briggs’ unhappiness with his contract: He doesn’t give the Chicago Bears any credit for his success. For all but the very best players, success in the NFL is highly circumstantial. As hundreds of players are finding out this weekend, it’s as much about being the right guy at the right place at the right time as about 40-yard-dash times and weight-room lifting reps.

Briggs, whether he wants to believe it, is a prime of example of that effect. After an unimpressive performance at the NFL Combine in 2003, he was a wild card in the draft. This was Joel Buchsbaum’s assessment in Pro Football Weekly’s draft preview that year: ‘‘There are teams who like Briggs as high as the second round, but question his toughness. Good enough to make a team and contribute, but might never provide what teams are looking for in a starter.’’

While most mock drafts had Briggs going deep in the third round or later, the Bears took him with the fourth pick of the third round (68th overall). As a rookie under Dick Jauron, Briggs showed promise as a strong-side linebacker, but was no Rosevelt Colvin, who had 10½ sacks, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries at that position in 2002. (That’s the same Rosevelt Colvin, by the way, who beat out Brian Urlacher at strong-side linebacker in 2000, forcing the Bears to move Urlacher to middle linebacker, where he became a superstar.)

But fate continued to move its huge hands to pave the way for Briggs to become a star. Jauron was fired after the 203 season, Lovie Smith was hired and he moved Briggs to weak-side linebacker in a proven defense that Smith himself described as ‘‘linebacker friendly.’’

It was the epitome of the right guy being at the right place at the right time. Smith’s defense allowed Briggs to do what he does best: use his speed to make tackles. The weak side in Smith’s defense has been a perfect spot for Briggs. The problem is that Briggs thinks he was born there. In reality, Smith put him there.

Maybe Urlacher would have been a seven-time Pro Bowler at outside linebacker, but to say Briggs would be Lance Briggs anywhere but where he is today is highly debatable.

The Bears are fortunate to have Briggs — though they took a strange route to get there, they acknowledged that when they offered the six-year, $36 million contract with $13 million guaranteed. What this latest contract gambit has made clear is that Briggs doesn’t understand how fortunate he is. In the 2003 draft, Sam Williams, a linebacker from Fresno State, was rated one spot ahead of Briggs by Pro Football Weekly, but went 15 spots later to the Oakland Raiders. Williams has played for five head coaches, three defensive coordinators and at two positions in seven NFL seasons. He’s a special-teams player with 24 starts.

It’s hard to say if Williams would have been a star had he been drafted by the Bears. But where would Briggs be today if he were drafted by the Raiders? I’d say he’d have more than 24 starts, but fewer than the six Pro Bowl appearances and less than the $28 million or so he’s banked with the Bears.

It would be nice if every player in the NFL were compensated with a salary commensurate with his production. In a more perfect NFL world, Matt Forte would have made $7 million last year and Chester Taylor would have made $470,000. But unless players want to sign one-year contracts, that’s not going to happen.

Briggs is underpaid, but that’s not the Bears’ fault. (Funny how there’s no newspaper campaign calling for Taylor to return any of the $7 million to the Bears.) It’s not as if the Bears have been unfair to Briggs. He made a deal and the Bears have every right to hold him to it. If he’s such a pro, he’ll do what veteran leaders are supposed to less than a week from the start of the regular season: shut up and play. That’s how you take one for the team.



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