The Chicago Bears put to rest a completely unnecessary distraction in an off-season when signing young stars to long contracts was supposed to be a priority. Monday the Bears signed Brian Urlacher to a one-year extension to end in 2012 for the tune of $18 million with a $6 million signing bonus. Urlacher was already signed with the team until 2011 but decided he wanted an extra year and fat signing bonus now. I can almost hear the clatter of loafers from lawyers running to the court house to re-examine child custody terms.
Forget that the Bears are still working on a contract with first round pick Chris Williams, who stands to play the biggest role in solidifying the offensive line. Forget that the Bears are still trying to figure out a dollar amount to sign Devin Hester and keep him from leaving town. Instead the Bears spend $18 million on a middle linebacker, albeit their marque player, that is approaching his peak with an arthritic back.
Brian Urlacher was looked up to by everyone in Chicago at a time when the team was at the bottom of the league. The team has reached the Super Bowl and now is trying to figure out how to get back. Urlacher still remains the face of the team but he is struggling to maintain that position of honor. He’ll always do the commercials and the ads and all that great stuff that makes us all love him. It’s his actions on the field that make you wonder if this is a team struggling to find where Urlacher fits in. The guy still makes amazing plays and I’m happy to keep him here as long as possible as a leader. You just have to wonder if a time will come when Urlacher will no longer be the star on defense and if he will take it well.
The Bears have shown an uncanny ability to draft great defensive players and get them on the field quickly to contribute. Guys like Tommie Harris, Lance Briggs, and Mark Anderson have come in making a difference from the first snap. However, young talented guys also want to get paid like young, talented guys. The Bears are struggling right now to figure out how much they can afford to pay Devin Hester, the greatest return man in the game. The front office can’t continue to dump money into old players, even the very successful ones, and allow the players of the future to go to another team.
The other day I had a moment when I was thinking about teams that have had huge ups and downs in the league. The great teams are the ones that don’t have trouble drafting key players and can keep their salary cap down, aka Indianapolis Colts. Then I got to thinking about the Oakland Raiders, a team that made a Super Bowl appearance and immediately dropped to the bottom barrel of the league. They had an MVP quarterback in Rich Gannon, and great veteran receivers in Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. After they lost the big game they also lost all their veteran players and the rest is ugly history. Within two years they were relying on Kerry Collins, Jerry Porter, and Tyrone Wheatley to lead the offense.
The moral of the story is you need to know when to keep veteran players and to allow young players to usher in a new age. If it is not handled well you end up with veterans overstaying their welcome and young players that leave town because they are frustrated with the organization that drafted them to sit the bench. Everyone in Chicago still loves Michael Jordan but let’s face it, the constant confusion of when he was going to retire prevented the Chicago Bulls from knowing when to rebuild and retarded their growth for the first five years after he retired. A team has to have balance and I hope the Bears know how to keep it.
Devin Hester needs to be locked up in the longest term contract possible. When you come across talent that great at such a young age you have to keep it all to yourself. I still think Urlacher can make huge contributions, I’m not saying he still isn’t an amazing player. I just worry that in a few years if the Bears want to bring in an understudy to learn his position that he might not take it well. This is a team looking towards the future to a good team with a long time. It just worries me when they become distracted with a veteran wanting more money and forget to sign their key first round draft pick. The Bears need to get focused and stay on the course they have set for being a solid team for a long time.