Brian Urlacher has found himself in an unusual position with the Chicago Bears' front office as an unrestricted free agent and his old team lacking enthusiasm to resign him.
For the last 13 seasons, Urlacher has been the face of the franchise, like many Bears middle linebackers before him. Now that he's turning 35 years old in May and a free agent, the Bears are trying to figure out how badly they need him.
Although the Bears have a new head coach, there is no indication the team will implement a new defensive strategy. A positive in signing Urlacher is that the Bears will get a player who knows the ins and outs of the defense, continue to call plays and be able to move players in the right position before the snap.
Unfortunately for Urlacher, he had a terrible season last year, and when I say a terrible season I don't just mean a terrible season for Urlacher - just a plain terrible season.
In the Bears defense, the middle linebacker usually backpedals after the snap to cover the middle of the field. From there he has to break from his backpedal to pick up a receiver, move laterally to the ball, or forward to meet a running back. Urlacher's speed was of great importance to the success of the defense in the past. Urlacher's speed diminished last year and he had a difficult time breaking out that backpedal to meet the opponent.
Keep in mind, shortly after training camp began last summer, Urlacher had his knee scoped. He spent the entire camp and preseason in shorts and floppy hat. He came back for the first regular season game. Although the procedure was just a scope, it prevented Urlacher from getting into game shape before the season began. He also missed four games at the end of the season with a hamstring injury.
So, is it possible, with a full offseason, training camp and preseason that Urlacher could regain some of the speed he lost last year? That is the gamble the Bears personnel department is mulling, because if he can't run, he will be of little use to the Bears in the upcoming campaign.
During a press conference Wednesday, head coach Marc Trestman said he saw a "very, very capable" linebacker while watching game film of Urlacher's 2012 season. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement from the coach.
However, the Bears need linebackers. Strong side linebacker Nick Roach just signed with the Oakland Raiders and backup linebacker Geno Hayes is now a Jacksonville Jaguar. Current linebackers on the Bears roster are Lance Briggs, Blake Costanzo, Dom DeCicco, Jerry Franklin, J.T. Thomas, Patrick Trahan and Lawrence Wilson. Is more than one name on that list familiar to you? Unless you're paying close attention to the Bears special teams unit, probably not.
Although the Bears have plenty of bodies to play linebacker, do they have any playmakers? Is Urlacher a playmaker at this point in his career?
I'm trying to avoid meathead argument to keeping Urlacher, like he's a coach on the field or the Bears have to keep the face of the franchise. I'm also trying to avoid meathead arguments to let him walk, too, like he's disrespected the fans or he's not friendly to the media. None of that matters. The most important things to ask are can he run and can he make plays?
Fortunately for the Bears, there doesn't seem to a big market for Urlacher's services, so they don't have to rush to judgement. Reports are out that Camp Urlacher has had a discussion with the Vikings, and rumors of interest from the Cowboys and Cardinals are floating. Right now, it's difficult to tell if any of those possibilities are serious.
It also has been reported Urlacher's agent sent a contract proposal to the Bears front office, asking for $5.5 million - the amount Ray Lewis received from the Ravens last season. He's not going to get that kind of money from the Bears, or anyone else.
If I had to hedge a bet on the conclusion to this saga, I'd say Urlacher signs with the Bears for one more year. I say that because the Bears need a linebacker, but also can wait for Urlacher to come back to them after testing the market and negotiate from a stronger position. That doesn't solve the problem of finding his successor, however. It would not surprise me if the Bears draft a linebacker. Probably not with the 20th overall pick (and not THAT guy from South Bend), but they might find a guy they like in the second or even third round. They'd better or they'll find themselves in the same spot next year.