Goodbye, No. 54: Bears, Brian Urlacher part ways

Posted by Matt Clapp | 3/20/2013 06:50:00 PM |

In news that is hardly surprising, but is still just sad to think of as a Chicago Bears fan, the Bears announced on Wednesday that they were not able to reach agreement on a contract with free-agent middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, and that the two sides will part ways, ending Urlacher's career as a Bear:

This news broke just minutes after I wrote a post about head coach Marc Trestman saying the Bears would still like Urlacher back, as a first and second down linebacker. And Urlacher has confirmed that the Bears made a contract offer to him, of 1-year, $2 million. But he added, "It was an ultimatum, not a negotiation":

I've made it known on the blog and Twitter that I'd be just fine with Urlacher returning, but at a price similar to what the Bears apparently offered him. Certainly no more than $2.5 million or so. It's upsetting to hear that he's clearly unhappy by the Bears' "ultimatum" offer. I know he doesn't want to hear it, but the Bears' offer was quite fair and it's quite unlikely he gets an offer similar to that from another team. In fact, I'm not sure if he'll get another offer at all and that there's a very good chance he retires before the 2013 season begins.

But you would definitely like the Bears and their face of the franchise over the last dozen-ish years to end things on good terms as he heads into his post-Bears (and potentially football) career. Because what a football career he's had.

Urlacher was drafted by the Bears with the ninth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, and when drafted, people weren't sure if he could play linebacker at the NFL level. In college at New Mexico, Urlacher played safety, some tight end, and even was the team's kick returner. He was considered an athletic, physical freak, but potentially without a pure position (a hybrid type) entering the NFL. The Bears started Urlacher at strong-side linebacker to begin his rookie season, but eventually moved him to the middle linebacker position when veteran Barry Minter went down with an injury. Urlacher would stay at the middle linebacker position, and dominate there over the next decade for the Bears.

Here's some of the most notable things Urlacher has accomplished in his career:
  • 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. 
  • 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year
  • 5-time All-Pro (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2010)
  • 8-time Pro Bowler (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011)
  • NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
  • Bears single-season tackles record (153 in 2002)
  • Bears career tackles record (1,192)
And he of course was the heart and soul of the 2006 Bears defense that went to the Super Bowl.

In 2011, Brian Urlacher was still playing at a high level and appeared to have three or four more quality NFL seasons left. That was until week 17 came along against the Vikings in Minnesota, and Urlacher suffered an MCL injury. Urlacher was able to play to begin the 2012 season, but never looked anything like the stud 4-3 middle linebacker that we were so used to see running down players all over the field. He was probably running at 70% of what he was running at before the knee injury, and even revealed that the knee would never quite be the same.

With Urlacher's knee unlikely to get any better, and father time getting up with the soon-to-be 35-year-old's body overall, the Bears understandably weren't going to offer Urlacher very much money to return. But man, it's still going to tough to imagine a Bears defense without Urlacher roaming the middle.

Urlacher will go down as one of the most iconic players in Bears history, and that's saying something when you consider the Bears have more Hall of Fame enshrinees than any franchise in the NFL.

Always a class act, consummate pro, and an incredible, revolutionary middle linebacker. Thanks for everything you've done as a Chicago Bear, No. 54.

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