By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) When you’re the only team negotiating with a player, that’s a good sign you should walk away from the table.
Phil Emery and the Bears are reported to be already talking with Brian Urlacher about a contract for next year, despite his injury-plagued 2012 and the fact that he will be 35 when next season begins. Per Albert Breer of NFL.com, “the source termed the talks between the sides as ‘preliminary,’ but the Bears have made it clear they would like to have Urlacher back next season.”
They had better know something the rest of us don’t.
No other organization appears interested in Urlacher, having watched him labor his way through games last year. Once the best athlete on the field, he was too often blocked, walled off, late into the gap and behind the play. His eyes fooled him, reading angles as if he could still get where he wanted to go. His transition out of his backpedal either laterally or forward – the critical physical skill of the middle linebacker in the base Tampa-2 defense – was substandard.
Emery and Marc Trestman may be making an informed decision based on certainty that such things will not happen again, that Urlacher’s problems were due specifically to his lingering knee problems, and that a full recovery from that and his late-season hamstring pull will mean he’s rejuvenated, and newly effective.
Or they could be holding themselves hostage to fears of a backlash that will never occur, trying to appease imagined sentimentalists both within the locker room and without.
We seemingly just went through a similar circus with Olin Kreutz, another veteran star who proved on tape to be more name than game. His outsized presence was not enough to blind the previous regime to his late-career shortcomings, and he was let go. He joined the Saints, couldn’t block anybody, got benched, got angry about it, and quit.
Any worries about professional players somehow being worse at their respective jobs because of that move proved utterly unfounded, as they would now on the other side of the ball. Players understand that sometimes your time in the league is up, no matter your accomplishments. They get it. Urlacher gets it, too, and he has said so explicitly.
Another indicator of a bad signing can be the concept that he brings some inherent value to the Bears above and beyond what he’d actually be worth to anyone else in the market – one more canard from the Kreutz case. Value is value, skills are skills and speed is speed. An eroded body is unaware of the logo on the helmet.
If the absence of a qualified replacement is reason to re-sign him, that’s an enormous indictment of drafting and development, and an insufficient argument. Find somebody else who can play, then, and stop using built-in excuses to take what you think is the path of less resistance.
Most importantly, lose this silliness about a new coaching staff needing to retain Urlacher to keep some kind of credibility. Coaches earn the respect of their players by doing everything they can to put them in position to succeed, and the quickest way to undermine one’s standing is to have somebody on the field who can’t perform, or have a starter who everybody knows is worse than his back-up. The best thing for coordinator Mel Tucker is to have his decisions unburdened by history or entitlement.
If Marc Trestman’s future could truly be affected by some superficial, fragile politics regarding Brian Urlacher, then Phil Emery hired the wrong guy.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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