What to do now?
The momentum the Bears had around the combine when they whipped through contracts for quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton, defensive end Alex Brown and tight end Desmond Clark is gone. Long gone.
The man team president Ted Phillips called the “face” of the organization wants more money with four years remaining on his contract. It’s a delicate situation for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, a former defensive player of the year award winner, made more awkward by the six-time Pro Bowler suggesting he could retire with neck and back ailments. Inside the Bears co-worker Mike Mulligan details the entire situation.
Proving an injury would allow him to keep the $13 million in bonus money he collected after signing his nine-year, $56.65 million extension in 2003. It would prevent him from playing again too. His agents have also dropped the idea that he be allowed to explore a trade. Urlacher has stayed away from the voluntary offseason program which is two weeks old, and has made it known he is willing to pass on mandatory activities otherwise known as minicamp and training camp.
Urlacher contends he has outperformed the extension he signed with two years remaining on his rookie deal. Brown just got an extension with two years remaining on his contract. And in Urlacher’s defense, the salary cap has shot up 54 percent to more than $116 million since ’03. He’d like his slice of the pie to reflect that. Back injuries may have affected his play last year, but it didn’t show at the end of the season. He’s the most marketable athlete in the city and has been for years. The Bears do not want this to turn ugly, but they also don’t want to cave and begin a dangerous precedent.
Thing is, Urlacher isn’t the only linebacker with lofty credentials skipping the offseason program that began April 7. With the ink just dry on Lance Briggs’ $36 million, six-year contract, he’s been a no-show for the first two weeks of the voluntary workouts. That’s cost him a $250,000 workout bonus included in the contract. (Urlacher is missing out on a smaller $50,000 workout bonus.) Briggs’ absence is less easily explained. Sources outside the team suggest he could be unhappy with his deal.
Briggs, who also boycotted voluntary offseason programs the last two years, came back to the Bears at their price after there was no action for him in free agency. His deal is a bargain compared to what the New York Jets paid Calvin Pace to come over from Arizona. Pace is a strong-side linebacker who can play with his hand down. Pass rushers receive a premium, but Pace is hardly as decorated as Briggs and at one point was viewed as a bust in Arizona more than a player worthy of a blockbuster deal.
Here’s a look at the two deals:
Briggs 6 years, $36 million, $13 million guaranteed (36 percent of total deal), $21.6 million payable in the first three years
Pace 6 years, $42 million, $22 million guaranteed (48 percent of total deal), $26 million payable in the first three years
Keep in mind, Briggs’ deal can essentially void to a two-year, $14.905 million contract if the Bears so desire. They delayed a $3.3 million roster bonus in 2010 until June 10, giving them ample time to weigh whether or not they want to go forward with him.
To top it off, Robbie Gould is also absent.
The Bears have talked with the kicker’s agent about an extension. He’s entering the final season of a four-year contract that has underpaid him following a Pro Bowl appearance and another season as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Then there’s Tommie Harris, who’s fixing to become the highest-paid defensive tackle in league history. The two sides figured they might be approaching a deal when the Rosenhaus brothers traveled to town in efforts to hammer out a contract last week, but those talks fell apart. Harris has continued to attend the offseason program, however.
Don’t forget, returner/receiver Devin Hester is angling for a pay day also.
Signing 11 draft picks could be a breeze for the club compared to working its way through this maze.