Extra Points: Urlacher divorce was inevitable
Philadelphia, PA – Butkus, Singletary and Urlacher.
The last active member of Chicago's famous linebacking firm is likely on his way out of the Windy City after 13 often brilliant seasons, declining what he called an "insulting" offer from the Bears.
Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and perhaps the prototypical "Tampa-2" middle linebacker, told the Chicago Tribune the Bears offered him a one-year deal that topped out at $2 million.
"It was a ultimatum, not a negotiation," the face of the franchise said to the newspaper. "I wanted to be in Chicago. I wanted to finish here. Now, that's not possible."
The Bears made their own announcement on Wednesday, freeing the banged-up 34- year-old future Hall of Famer to test free agency for the first time in his career.
"Brian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade," new Chicago general manager Phil Emery said. "He showed great leadership and helped develop a winning culture over his time with the Bears. We appreciate all he has given our team, on and off the field. Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears."
Urlacher isn't thinking about retirement but free agency doesn't figure to be all that kind to him. There aren't exactly a dozen teams searching for a 24- year-old three-down mike, never mind one a decade older with knee problems.
The Tampa-2 defensive philosophy which Chicago employed under Lovie Smith is quickly becoming an antiquated concept on the verge of extinction in a game becoming more specialized by the day.
The fact that one of its top remaining proponents, Smith, was shown the door in the Second City after the 2012 season, foreshadowed Urlacher's eventual exit since his presence was no longer a necessity to the core principles of the Bears' defense.
"I told my agent, 'I just don't think they want me back. Lovie (Smith is) gone. New head coach (Marc Trestman). New general manager. I just don't feel like they're probably going to want me back.'", Urlacher said on ESPN Radio Thursday. "We had some talks going on, so there was a little bit of hope. But I never had a real solid feeling that I would go back there."
The two most sensible landing spots for Urlacher would be NFC North rival Minnesota and Dallas, but understand Urlacher and his agents initially asked for two years at $5.5 million per season from Chicago.
Neither the Vikings nor the cap-strapped Cowboys are in a position to throw big money at Urlacher, so expecting it is a pie-in-the-sky mentality by Urlacher.
The Vikings are the most sensible fit on the field. Stewarded by Tony Dungy disciple Leslie Frazier, Minnesota, which lost pedestrian middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley in free agency, is very much in need of a three-down 'backer who understands the kind of depth you need to get in zone coverages down the seam.
"We've got the upcoming draft to try to address it and we'll also look at what's available in NFL free agency," Frazier told ESPN Twin Cities when discussing his need. "It's definitely a position we need to address. We have a void there and we've got to find the right guy. It's a big part of our defense. We have to get better at the middle linebacker position."
The Cowboys, meanwhile, are in play since they hired Monte Kiffin, one of the originators of the Tampa-2 philosophy, to run their defense. Sean Lee was regarded as a rising star as a 3-4 inside linebacker, but that's light years away from the responsibilities asked of a zone-coverage guy..
Urlacher might get a second year from the Vikings, the Cowboys or another team looking for a veteran presence, but any deal he's pitched will be as cap friendly as the one the Bears ticked Urlacher off with.
An "insulting" offer from the franchise you called home for 13 years is often seen as sensible and realistic by the same player when it's coming from a different club. After all, familiarity breeds contempt, not logic.