It's rare that a press release takes your breath away. The email from the Chicago Bears on Wednesday did just that. It read, in bold letters: "Bears unable to reach agreement with Urlacher for 2013."
"We were unable to reach an agreement with Brian, and both sides have decided to move forward," Bears general manager Phil Emery said in the team-issued statement. "Brian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade. 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."
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday on "NFL Total Access" that Urlacher's offer from the Bears was at or near the veteran minimum. Urlacher later told the Chicago Tribune that the Bears offered him a one-year, $2 million contract that he called an "ultimatum, not a negotiation."
"I wanted to be in Chicago," Urlacher said, according to the Tribune. "I wanted to finish here."
We knew this was possible. Urlacher has been on the free-agent market for a week, but he has struggled to find serious offers elsewhere. The Bears clearly were willing to bring him back, but they couldn't come to terms on a deal. Hall of Fame-caliber players like Urlacher often find it very difficult to take a huge pay cut to stay put. (Even if they have to take a huge pay cut when they leave town.)
Urlacher was the perfect fit for former coach Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 defense. Urlacher made the Pro Bowl eight times and won the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2005. He's the type of player who inspires statements from team owners.
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"Over the last 13 years, Brian Urlacher has been an outstanding player, teammate, leader and face of our franchise," Bears chairman George McCaskey said. "As Bears fans, we have been lucky to have such a humble superstar represent our city. He embodies the same characteristics displayed by the Bears all-time greats who played before him and he will eventually join many of them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We thank Brian for all he has given our team and our city. He will always be a part of the Bears family. We wish him the very best."
Urlacher's game once was built on speed, but he clearly was not the same physically in 2012. It's possible a team like the Dallas Cowboys could bring Urlacher in for one last year or two, but it's worth wondering if this is the end of the line.
If this is it, Urlacher has enjoyed an incredible run.