Moving on without Olin Kreutz

It became official this weekend that the Chicago Bears and longtime center Olin Kreutz have parted ways. What can fans now expect from the team's offensive line in 2011 and beyond?

Jerry Angelo, general manager of the Chicago Bears, has been called a lot of things. In such a high-profile position, it comes with the territory. Yet it's been a while since anyone has called him cheap, especially after the spending spree he initiated last season with the free-agent signings of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna.

In attempting to re-sign Olin Kreutz this offseason, the team's starter at center since 1999, the issue of money was reportedly at the forefront. Angelo said last night the two sides were apart by $500,000, of which Kreutz was not willing to give up. The Bears offered him a $4 million contract and Kreutz wanted $4.5 million. According to sources, after days of negotiating the front office finally laid down an ultimatum: take it or leave it, and let us know within the hour.

The six-time Pro Bowler left the money on the table. Afterward, Kreutz said it wasn't about the money but more the fact he didn't feel wanted by the team.

"It felt like maybe it was time to move on. I just got that feeling," Kreutz said. "I have enough money. So the offer wasn't a big hurdle for me. It was a feel I had, just maybe they wanted to move on no matter what the offer was.

"I don't want to taint anyone. Both sides have won since I've been here. They've treated me good and I think I've played my ass off for them. I know negotiations are never pretty. Things are said and you can't take them personal, but you do get kind of a feel for where people stand and I just didn't get the right feel for it."

In the fallout, many fans and media alike have blasted Angelo for his stinginess regarding Kreutz. The four-time All Pro has been the glue up front for the past 12 seasons. With a line that will this year most likely feature a rookie and a second-year player at the tackle spots, many believed it was absolutely necessary to re-sign Kreutz due to his experience and leadership.

Angelo said he wanted Kreutz back but there was more for him to consider than just one player.

"It's not about one person," he said. "There are a lot of moving parts. It's a big jigsaw puzzle and you have to put value on each piece, and we did. You're not going to win them all. Is it going to be a loss? Yeah, it's going to be a loss. It's going to be a temporary loss. But we have to regroup.


C Olin Kreutz
Scott Boehm/Getty

"We have a lot of things happening at a very fast pace. We didn't have two months to draw things out and be patient. We have to move now. I don't have a crystal ball here. I have to deal with reality and I have to think about, number one, the team. It's about the team. This is what we're built on, the team."

Kreutz said he is now considering retiring from the NFL.

"I am sure I will have an opportunity [to play elsewhere]," he said. "I am just not sure if I want to play for anyone else. Retirement is definitely an option."

It appears this entire situation came down to hurt feelings. Like Kreutz said, he has enough money. A 13-year NFL career will set up most players for life. In the grand scheme, another half million couldn't have meant that much to him. So those calling Angelo cheap are way off base.

The organization has watched Kreutz's play decline the past few years. Much of that had to do with a lingering Achilles injury but it was obvious the 34-year-old was past his prime. There were times in 2009 and 2010 where Kreutz played like a shell of his former self, something of which the Bears were well aware. Which explains the team's reluctance to overpay for his services.

"We had an offer, we bumped our offer," Angelo said. "We did the very best we could. So now we're going to just let the chips fall where they may and we're going to move forward. "

To that end, the Bears agreed to terms yesterday with former Seattle Seahawks center Chris Spencer. Tim Ruskell, Chicago's director of player personnel, is familiar with Spencer, having drafted him during his previous stint as president of the Seahawks.

Spencer (6-3, 309) is a former first-round draft pick that has been a starter in Seattle since 2006. He started all 16 games in 2010, after missing six total games the two previous seasons combined due to injury. Angelo said he's excited about what Spencer brings to the team but that he'll have to earn a starting position.

"I like his strength, a very good run blocker," said Angelo. "We like the traits that he brings. He's competing for a starting job. There is no entitlement here. Very few players have that luxury. Chris is going to have to come in here and compete and earn his way."

Roberto Garza has served as the starting center during the first two days of training camp. That will most likely continue until Spencer is allowed to practice Aug. 4, at which time he will be given the opportunity to take over in the middle. Garza has only started one NFL game at center, so it only makes sense to slide him back to right guard, where he's been the starter since 2006.

"You can't live in the past," coach Lovie Smith said in reference to Kreutz. "No one can, and we're not. This is a new year. We're excited about getting a chance to see Chris Spencer on the football field."

So far, the offensive line has featured Garza at center, Chris Williams at left guard, Lance Louis at right guard, Frank Omiyale at left tackle and J'Marcus Webb at right tackle. Yet in practice yesterday, Tice inserted rookie Gabe Carimi at right tackle with the first team for a number of plays, and slid Webb to the left side. He also flip-flopped Webb and Omiyale at one point.

Tice obviously hasn't made a final decision on who will play where, but if yesterday is any indication, he's leaning toward starting Carimi on the right side. Once Spencer gets on the practice field it will be much easier to predict how the front five will play out.

"We've got a good nucleus of young [linemen] with traits that we look for, but they've got to come together," Angelo said. "We need to start developing some of our young players and how are you going to develop them if you don't play them? And if you don't play them, how do they know you believe in them? So it's a catch 22. We brought in an experienced center that's still in the prime of his career, and that's the best we could do.

"They hired me to make decision based on what's in the best interest of the team. So that's what it's about people. C'mon, this isn't a wake. Nobody died. We wish him the best."

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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