MORRISSEY: Bears best served to run along without Urlacher
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org March 16, 2013 12:46AM
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher watches the game from the sidelines in the second half of the Chicago Bears 41-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday September 9, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:54AM
In the short time he has been in town, Bears general manager Phil Emery has proven to be extremely well prepared, even beyond the obsessive meticulousness your typical NFL management type or coach exhibits on a daily basis.
I imagine him not just making sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed but demanding that calligraphy be used, preferably in Gothic script.
Still, it doesn’t take extraordinary attention to detail to see that Brian Urlacher can’t run anymore. All it takes is game tape from last season and at least one working cornea.
Urlacher’s status as a Bears icon complicates matters. He’s the latest in a long line of great middle linebackers dating to Bill George. But nothing so far has indicated that Emery is susceptible to nostalgic swooning.
If I’m the GM, I’m hoping Urlacher makes the decision for me. I believe Emery, being the discerning evaluator he has been so far (hello, Lovie), hopes another team makes the free agent an offer, allowing the Bears to plead salary-cap poverty.
It’s time for everyone involved to move on.
Nobody wants to look like the heartless villain, which is how Emery will be viewed in some corners if he allows a future Hall of Famer to walk away. But it’s the right thing to do. It was the right thing for the Green Bay Packers to trade Brett Favre, even though many of us thought it ridiculous at the time.
I had this debate with fellow Sun-Times scribbler Rick Telander on Comcast SportsNet’s ‘‘SportsTalk Live’’ last week. He said the Bears should give Urlacher one more year because of what he has meant to the franchise. But why? Why this one year? Why can’t last year be the one year? It’s not written anywhere that a seasonlong goodbye for one of the best players in team history is a must.
It’s written everywhere that this is a business.
Lots of people are bringing up the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, who allowed linebacker Ray Lewis one last star turn. But Lewis could still run — not as well as he used to, but certainly better than Urlacher did last season. And if the last several years are any indication, even if Urlacher were to come back with some of his speed restored, it’ll be a matter of time before he gets hurt again.
The Bears gave Urlacher a one-year contract extension in 2008 that included almost $18 million in new money. It came after he complained he had outplayed his original deal. The extension made sense. He was — cliché alert — the face of the franchise. Now he’s the crow’s feet of the franchise.
‘‘Even when I was being a little baby and I wanted a contract extension, they gave it to me,’’ he said in April. ‘‘They’ve always taken care of me. But I think it goes both ways.’’
Last week, the Bears lost Nick Roach to the Oakland Raiders. He had moved from strong-side linebacker to the middle last season when Urlacher got hurt. Roach is a fine player. Not great, but fine. What Emery can’t do now is panic. He needs to squint and see the situation clearly. Is there another linebacker on the market who can move better than Urlacher can? Of course. But will that speed and mobility be more of an asset than Urlacher’s knowledge of the cover-2 defense?
What about Nick Barnett, the former Packer and Buffalo Bill? You say he’s as beaten up as Urlacher, who turns 35 in May? OK, what about former Miami Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby, who had a career-high 134 tackles last season? He’s 31.
In his first 13 1/2 months on the job, Emery has been quick to identify the Bears’ weaknesses, although, let’s be honest, you didn’t have to be Gil Brandt to see they needed help on the offensive line, at tight end and at wide receiver. When I say ‘‘help,’’ I mean, ‘‘Help!’’ But props to him for signing left tackle Jermon Bushrod, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, last week.
Emery has work to do with the defense, which looked very good in the first half of the 2012 season, thanks to all the turnovers it forced, but old when those turnovers dried up in a 3-5 second half.
His best move will be to stand still when it comes to Urlacher.
On Twitter, Bears linebacker Blake Costanzo called Urlacher ‘‘the heart and soul of this team.’’ Yes, but not the legs.