In a bit of a bombshell late Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago Bears announced they had broken off negotiations with one of the franchise's (and the NFL's) all-time greats, Brian Urlacher.
After his selection as the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, Urlacher became a dominant star, a true leader, the heart and soul of Chicago's great defense. Fans adored him for all the right reasons. He was the most beloved sports figure in Chicago since Michael Jordan.
But take a deep breath. When you get past the human element, this is a great day to root for Chicago. This is a great day to recognize that you are in excellent hands with general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman.
My respect level and admiration for Urlacher is sky high. It always has been and always will be. He was such a consistent force, great tackler and a true Energizer Bunny on the field.
But he's not the same player. Emery and Trestman are cognizant of that. They deserve a standing ovation.
There's going to be a lot of back and forth over the next few days. Urlacher took to the airwaves on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Jim Miller and Alex Marvez and said, "I guess I just wasn't one of their guys." He added that he has yet to meet Trestman, who was just named Bears coach in January. Urlacher said on SiriusXM that he asked for $5.5 million to return to the Chicago defense. Emery, according to Urlacher, finally got around to making a counter-offer this week -- to the tune of $2 million. Urlacher referred to it as an "ultimatum, not a negotiation."
Urlacher's spot on. And while this sounds cold, good for Emery.
Emery is in his second year as Bears GM. He's a pure football guy and very detail-oriented. He watched Urlacher last year. The iconic linebacker missed time due to injury and didn't play at the clip that will put him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. At this stage of Urlacher's career, I don't think he's worth more than the $2 million Chicago offered. To Urlacher -- and in the court of public opinion -- were the Bears really better off not offering the 34-year-old linebacker a deal at all? I don't think so. Emery assigned a number to a player based on performance and projection. It was justified.
I think the toughest thing for a sports executive to do is detach himself from emotion when dealing with a legend. There are countless examples of tough decisions, from Ted Williams to Peyton Manning. I always reference when former New York Rangers executive Dave Checketts parted ways with Mark Messier, who captained the team that ended the franchise's 54-year Stanley Cup title drought. Upon being grilled by Mike Francesa on WFAN, Checketts said, "How long do I have to keep paying for the Cup?"
Actually, Bears fans should feel lucky that Emery, Trestman and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker don't have a history with Urlacher. This allowed them to make an educated and intelligent decision, looking at 2013 and beyond. Lovie Smith coached Urlacher in so many huge games; those two were together for so many battles. I don't know if Smith could've removed all emotion and made the right decision.
Brian Urlacher was a great player, but those days are clearly in the past.
Sure, teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings could use another linebacker. Honestly, though, I don't anticipate there being a big market for Urlacher. He's a star player in the twilight of his career. Urlacher's emotions are still raw and he isn't sure what's next. My crystal ball says he will spend the 2013 season in a television studio somewhere. Credit Emery for realizing this before Urlacher.
And thus, Bears fans should smile and breathe easy. The past was great because of Urlacher. Emery and Trestman will keep the future bright.