Sometimes there’s just no getting around it–a player and a team need to go their separate ways and just move on. It can have nothing to do with whether or not that player can still contribute or if that team needs him. Sometimes, it’s just time. That time definitely has come for the Chicago Bears and their face of the franchise linebacker, Brian Urlacher.
Urlacher has been a mainstay of the Bears’ defense for 13 seasons, and is arguably the greatest linebacker to ever step on the turf at Soldier Field. But the truth is that the Bears are looking to get younger and faster, and without the help of a flux capacitor, that just isn’t going to happen for Urlacher.
Both parties are going to be better off for the split. The Bears are going to find a replacement (or two), and they’ll still have one of the better defenses in the league even without their heart and soul wearing number 54 and patrolling the back of the defensive line. Urlacher will find a team that needs a veteran free agent linebacker, and that has some youngsters who will benefit from his experience–a team that will give him another shot at his dream of a Super Bowl ring.
The tension between Urlacher and Bears management was apparent from the time that former Bears head coach Lovie Smith was fired by the team. Urlacher knew that the new regime was going to have a different idea of what the Bears needed to do, and that he might not fit into those plans. The team knew that Urlacher wasn’t going to bend on what he felt he deserved to be paid, and they made him an offer that–while not insulting–was far below what Urlacher would want.
Urlacher can still play, and while he didn’t have his greatest season in 2012, he still can be a disruptive force on defense and has the ability to be a great team leader. The Bears have proven they can play defense without him in the past, so any hole created by his absence will be filled.
Many Bears fans are probably still in that period of disbelief that happens when a player who’s just always been there is gone. It hurts when they retire, but it’s a relentless sting when they go play for another team, especially if that team is a bitter rival.
But Chicago fans should always wear their number 54 jerseys with pride, because even if Urlacher doesn’t finish his career as a Bear or retire as a Bear, he will always be a Bear–and be one of the greatest ever.