Briggs signs six-year, $36 million deal to stay with Bears

CHICAGO -- A year ago, Lance Briggs vowed never to play again for the Chicago Bears. Now, he's locked in for the long term, and yes, he has a hard time believing it.

"A little bit. A little bit," he said during a conference call Sunday when asked if he's surprised. "But all in all, I'm happy I'm back with the Bears -- very much happy."

Briggs signed a six-year, $36 million deal Saturday that gives him $13 million guaranteed and $21.6 million over the first three years of the contract, a $7.2 million average that equals his salary last season. That capped two years of ill will that started with Briggs' decision to turn down a $33 million offer and escalated last offseason after the Bears made him a franchise player.

There were harsh words, a threatened holdout that never materialized. And now, there's a new contract.

"The deal was right for Chicago, and that's obviously a place that I wanted to be," Briggs said.

Retaining one of the mainstays of their defense was important for the Bears, given the concerns about Brian Urlacher's neck and back.

Briggs finished with 140 tackles (80 solo), including a team-leading 10 for loss, while making his third Pro Bowl. There was heavy speculation that he would leave. But the market seemed limited even though agent Drew Rosenhaus said Briggs was close to signing with the Washington Redskins, who tried to acquire him last summer, and several other teams were interested.

Briggs thought San Francisco or New Orleans were likely destinations, but both teams went for other players. The 49ers signed defensive end Justin Smith on Saturday to bolster their pass rush, a day after the Saints acquired Jonathan Vilma in a trade with the New York Jets.

That left surprisingly few options. Then again, last year's stare-down and issues away from the field might have scared off suitors, although Briggs dismissed that notion.

"No, not at all," Briggs said.

A year ago, Briggs was infuriated that the Bears slapped the franchise tag on him and made it virtually impossible to leave as a restricted free agent. He vowed never to play again for them, then said he would hold out for 10 games. He also demanded that the team remove the label or trade him.

He finally accepted the franchise tender offer of $7.2 million just before the start of training camp after the team agreed it would not put the label on him after the season. He also got a $1 million bonus, but the drama didn't end there.

Briggs staged a media boycott that he briefly interrupted after he crashed his Lamborghini and abandoned it alongside a highway in the middle of the night in late August. He rarely spoke to reporters after that, although he did say in the fall that he hoped to stay in Chicago and reiterated that desire in December.

"This time around, the cards are more in my favor," Briggs said on Sunday. "It's a decision that I make. It's not so much a decision that the Bears make on me. Last year, my chance at being free in the market was taken away because I was franchised. I'm real happy for me and my market. My market is where it should be."

Briggs said this deal is more front-loaded than the one he turned down two years ago, and it's in line with the five-year, $35 million deal linebacker Adalius Thomas received last year from New England, although Thomas got $20 million guaranteed. Even so, he'll earn less than fellow Rosenhaus client Bernard Berrian, who **signed a six-year, $42 million deal with Minnesota** that includes $16 million guaranteed after leading the Bears in receiving last season.

"I'm happy for him," Briggs said of Berrian, who has never made a Pro Bowl. "I don't look at it as a dollars or numbers game. I'm happy for what I got."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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