Losing Brian Urlacher impacts the Chicago Bears in numerous ways. He was the leader of the defense for 13 years, making all the calls and serving as a coach on the field. His blend of size, speed and aggression may never again be matched by anyone that follows him. His on-field intelligence and experience in the team's 4-3, Cover 2 defense allowed him to make adjustments on the fly, both in the huddle and pre-snap.
Yet it can be argued that loss of his leadership, both on the field and in the locker room, will be the trait that affects the defense the most. Throughout Chicago, it's a familiar refrain from talking heads and writers alike, with most assuming the defense will crumble without Urlacher at the helm.
It is true that no one will ever "replace" him – in his prime, he was arguably the most dominant linebacker in the game – and his departure leaves several holes to fill, but it's an insult to a defense loaded with veterans to assume no one can fill Urlacher's leadership role.
When the 2013 regular season starts, the Bears will start four players 30 years old or older: Julius Peppers (33), Lance Briggs (32), D.J. Williams (31) and Charles Tillman (32). And if Israel Idonije re-signs, that makes six senior leaders in the starting lineup.
If you asked those five, or any of their teammates, if there is going to be lack of leadership for Chicago's defense in 2013, they would laugh in your face. Peppers is a bona fide Hall of Famer, while Briggs and Tillman may also wind up in Canton. Those three alone have combined for 17 Pro Bowl appearances.
And those three won't stepping into brand new roles. Tillman and Briggs have always been two of the most vocal leaders on the field, while Peppers leads by example. Briggs especially will have no trouble embracing his new role as the face of the defense. He's been a key member of the Bears' 4-3 since 2003, starting all but seven games for the Monsters of the Midway the past 10 years. He has as much knowledge and understanding of Chicago's system as did Urlacher.
Folks have criticized GM Phil Emery for letting Urlacher walk. While he deserves some of that criticism, the idea that Urlacher should have been kept around solely because he was the leader of the defense is absurd. He is a 35-year-old linebacker with a bum knee. As anyone in the NFL will tell you, you don't get paid for what you did in the past, you get paid for what you are expected to do in the future. With the Bears' salary cap constraints, how could Emery justify eating up half the remaining cap space (currently around $5 million) for a player who demonstrated throughout the 2012 campaign that he's no longer the Pro Bowl defender he once was?
The writing was on the wall and while, from a nostalgic standpoint, seeing Urlacher leave the Windy City is a hard pill to swallow, it won't negatively affect the defense to the extent many are assuming. Urlacher will be missed but his time had come, and the Bears are more than prepared to fill his leadership role on defense.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.