Special thanks to Tommy T for posting a link to a Tribune story on Truth and Rumors. That got me started on this blog...
Brian Urlacher has been taking a beating on Truth and Rumors and in the Chicago newspapers lately. It's probably well-deserved because Urlacher's been unwilling to deal with the media since the middle of last season AND he's complaining about his contract.
Check this out:
4/18/08 "Brian Urlacher situation is tricky business for Bears. Agents ask Bears for trade while LB threatens retirement" is written by Mike Mulligan of the Sun Times.
Urlacher says he never said anything about wanting to be traded or retiring in a story by the Tribune. Here's the opening to that story...
PHOENIX - Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher disputed a report that he threatened to retire if the Bears don't reward him with more guaranteed money.
``I never said that I was going to quit,'' Urlacher told the Tribune early Friday morning. ``That's just a gossip column. Reports like that are why I choose not to speak to the media.''
I think that last statement is the key. Urlacher hasn't been speaking to ANYONE in the media for a while now. He's "the face" of the most beloved sports team in the city of Chicago and no one in the media has had access to him for six months (give or take). So, it's probably safe to say that Vaughn McClure of the Tribune struck gold when he got his break. Now scan these stories...
4/18/08 "Bears' Urlacher: 'I never said that I was going to quit.' Linebacker disputes report that he wants a trade or will retire" is written by Vaughn McClure of the Tribune.
4/19/08 "1 more year isn't enough for Urlacher. BEARS | Linebacker says he's received offer but wants longer extension of current 9-year deal" is written by Mike Mulligan of the Sun Times.
4/20/08 "Brian Urlacher's protest could lead to more money-hungry Bears" is written by David Haugh of the Tribune.
4/20/08 "Bears' Brian Urlacher, pushing for new deal, enjoying Arizona retreat. Urlacher takes refuge from fans and critics" is written by Vaugh McClure of the Tribune.
4/22/08 "Angelo won't budge on Urlacher's demands. If unhappy Urlacher wants an extension from Bears, Angelo's current offer is as good as it's going to get" is written by David Haugh of the Tribune.
Note the tenor of the articles. Only McClure is writing about Urlacher with a positive spin. This is probably due to the fact that McClure is the only writer who's been granted unfettered access to Urlacher. The media doesn't take kindly to athletes who make themselves unavailable for interviews, or answer in one-word sentences during press conferences.
The conclusion that I'm coming to is Urlacher's camp has been using McClure to paint a positive picture of Urlacher because they are a little shocked that Chicagoans are displeased with the linebacker's "holdout" for a new contract. A recent poll by WSCR in Chicago showed that 95% of Bears fans have no sympathy for Urlacher in this situation. The media has been going after Urlacher since last season's infamous press conference when Urlacher answered all questions with "Yes" or "No" answers, then heaped on a general attitude of petulance on everyone. Now Urlacher needs a friend in the media, and he invites McClure of the Tribune down to Arizona for an exclusive interview. That's all it takes, folks.
To tell the truth, I am more than a bit disappointed in Urlacher myself. I don't disagree that, on paper, he had a very good season last year despite "disappearing" for entire games. However, he is getting older and showing signs of injury problems. He will get older and slower and gimpier every year from here until the end of his career.
Furthermore, the Bears have entered rebuilding mode in earnest. If ever there was a time when Bears fans wanted to hear Urlacher say "I will restructure my contract to bring some offensive talent to the Bears," it's now. And what does Chicago's favorite son say? "I want more money even though I'm only half-way through my 9-year deal." Where is the team player now? Why has his attitude changed?
Well, for one, the retirement talk has started just like I suspected it might: http://fannation.com/blogs/post/77223.
Even though the retirement talk is being spun as negotiation tactics by Urlacher, the thought of retirement has crossed his mind. How long did it take Brett Favre to finally decide to retire? Four years after the first rumors surfaced? I don't think Urlacher will drag it out that long. I highly doubt Urlacher will make his goal of playing 12 years in the NFL. That's why he's pushing for more money now. The light is at the end of the tunnel, and Urlacher wants his big payday. He's eight years in now, and I will go on record to say he will retire after his 10th season with the Bears.
Urlacher is still one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and the best MLB, there is no question about that. I like the term "Once in a generation player" (OGP) because I do think Urlacher is that special. Here are Urlacher's stats from 2007:
92 solo tackles, 31 assists (rank among NFL MLBs = 6)
5 sacks (rank among NFL MLBs = 2)
17 passes defensed (rank among NFL MLBs = 1) (overall NFL rank = 22(t))
5 interceptions (rank among NFL MLBs = 1)
2 fumble recoveries (rank among NFL MLBs = 2)
7 forced turnovers (rank among NFL MLBs = 1)
Now that I've said that, let me say this: Urlacher leaving will not be as devastating as many Bears fans think. Yes, he's an OGP, but some of that big salary is desperately needed on offense. The Bears have done an excellent job finding young talent at LB, and Lance Briggs might do well in the MLB while Jamar Williams steps up to fill Briggs' spot at OLB. If Michael Okwo develops into a strong player, he could be ready to fill the spot by the time Urlacher retires. Who knows? The Bears might even find another middle round gem (like Briggs) in the draft...
The bottom line is that, no matter how good you think Urlacher really is, he is merely one of eleven on the field for the defense. I know it sounds like sacrilege to say it, but if Angelo plays his cards right, Bears fans won't spend too much time lamenting the departure of Urlacher, because his absence will mean more money to spend on other positions. Sure there will be some "growing pains" when a new starter has to fill those big shoes, but life (and the Bears) will go on. Just as life went on after Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, and Mike Singletary retired. The difference being that I don't recall any stories about those players complaining about not making enough money during their careers.