When Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears failed to reach an agreement early Wednesday evening, my head began to spin.
How could this be? The franchise's all-time leader in tackles is out on the street? An eight-time Pro Bowler is searching for work? The 2005 Defensive Player of the Year is now on the free agency offensive?
And then I remembered why one of the greatest Bears middle linebackers in team history won't be returning to Soldier Field in blue and orange in 2013.
Brian Urlacher can't play at a high level in the NFL anymore.
Now before Meatball Nation gets their pitchforks, arm-chain tattoos and "54" jerseys out, I will give you the opportunity to present your case on why Urlacher should have remained a Chicago Bear for this season and possibly beyond.
Meatball Nation: "How can you say Urlacher can't play at a high level anymore? Look at his numbers from last year! In a down year plagued by injury, he still made dynamic plays for a defense that finished 3rd in the NFL in 2012."
Urlacher had decent numbers last year after coming back from the injury. In 12 games started, he had 68 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and even one interception for a touchdown.
This, however, is a case of the numbers not telling the whole story. The game tape gave it away. Urlacher's declining lateral movement and ability to roam freely sideline to sideline was apparent and attacked by defenders. New Bears head coach Marc Trestman even referred to Urlacher as a two-down linebacker.
"We evaluated him and simply -- I'm not going to go through specifics -- we thought, without question, he could play on first and second down for us," Trestman told Laurence Holmes of WSCR-670AM in Chicago on Wednesday at the Owners Meetings in Phoenix.
M.N: "But reports said Urlacher was willing to take a hometown discount to stay in Chicago."
True. He made $7.5 million a season ago. But would you pay $3.5 million to a franchise player who would only play 1st and 2nd down for your team? Of course not!
This wasn't a case of slighting a face of a franchise. This was an honest evaluation made by General Manager Phil Emery, head coach Marc Trestman and the rest of his coaching staff that they wouldn't pay that kind of money for a linebacker that would only be on the field half of the time.
The Bears football staff stood their ground, offered Urlacher a deal of up to $2 million, $1 million guaranteed and the future Hall of Famer said no; telling the Tribune's Vaughn McClure: "It wasn't even an offer, it was an ultimatum. I feel like I'm a decent football player still. It was insulting, somewhat of a slap in the face."
(Side Note: I'd love to know what it's like to be slapped in the face with $2 million dollars. I'd also love to know how I could blow through the $27 million that was offered to Latrell Spreewell and not be able to "feed my family." Makes you wonder what the hell those kids are eating!)
M.N: "It would have been great to see him retire as a Bear."
Why? If he would end up in say... Dallas. Would you only be able to conceptualize the legendary Bears linebacker donning a white jersey sporting a silver helmet with the blue star? Michael Jordan is the greatest Chicago athlete of all time and he retired twice as a Bull, only to wind up finally retiring as a Washington Wizard! If only Chicago fans had the spell to block that memory from existance.
M.N: "The Bears Won't Be Able to Compete for a Super Bowl without Urlacher as Their Middle Linebacker Next Year."
While Meatball Nation may have had a few decent debates before, there are major flaws with this argument.
ComcastSportsNet Chicago Analyst Matt Bowen puts it all into perspective quite well:
Brian's going to Canton. He's a Hall of Famer. There's not going to be another middle linebacker like him, maybe forever, when you talk about size and athletic ability." But in free agency, you're always paying for the future, not that past production. This is where that business aspect comes into play. What kind of player will they have next year? Are they going to have a player that's worth $5 million, or a player worth what they wanted to offer? I think they finally just came to the conclusion that they're not going to be able to meet on the money, this is the decision we're going to make as a franchise and let him walk."
So how does he see Urlacher as he enters free agency?
"I think it's going to be limited, just because of his age and because he was beat-up last season," Bowen said. "He ended the season with a hamstring injury and people are going to question his knees. He's going to have to go through a lot of physicals when he visits teams. I do expect there to be interest, not just the type of interest you see in a guy in his prime -- 26, 27, 28 years old. He's going to have to wait for the market to thin out a bit, then see if he catch on somewhere."
So Meatball Nation, time to make a decision. If you want to continue to blanket yourself in nostalgia and the past, then hope that Phil Emery and company realize "they've made a huge mistake." Or you can give the benefit of the doubt to the new regime and see if they can give you a Super Bowl winner that Lovie Smith never delivered.
Brian Urlacher is no longer a Chicago Bear. Somehow, I think we can all move on.
After all, it's nice to see common sense beat out nonsense.