Briggs, a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro, was drafted by the Bears out of Arizona in the third round of the 2003 draft. He became a starter next to Brian Urlacher just three games into his rookie season, a role he wouldn’t relinquish the next twelve years.
Throughout most of his career, Briggs was the poster boy for dependability, missing just four games between 2003-2012. In 173 career games, he tallied 1,174 total tackles, 15.0 sacks, 78 passes defended, 16 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles and five touchdowns.
Briggs was one of the main cogs of Lovie Smith’s defense, during an era in which the unit was routinely ranked at or near the top of the league.
Now in the final year of a six-year contract he signed in 2008, Briggs said earlier this month he’s playing in what will likely be his final season in Chicago.
“I understand this is probably my last year as a Chicago Bear,” he said on Nov. 5. “It's the last year of my deal. It's not like I'm going to magically show up after this year and they're going to open the gates up for you. Those gates close when you're a free agent.”
The writing has been on the wall for Briggs the past two years, during which his body has broken down, playing in just 17 games combined. The Bears used second- and fourth-round picks on linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene last year in preparation for Briggs’ departure.
“I know the reality of it and I'm proud of all the years I've had here,” Briggs said. “It's been great. I couldn't have asked for a better situation each day, every practice.”
With his 12-year career in Chicago over, the debate over his Hall-of-Fame credentials begins. He’s been overshadowed by Urlacher his entire career, yet Briggs was one of the league’s best linebackers in the NFL for a decade. He’s held true to the tradition of elite linebacker play in the Windy City, following in the footsteps of Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, and will definitely be considered for a place in Canton.
The Bears will move forward using a combination of Jon Bostic and Christian Jones, and possibly Khaseem Greene, to replace Briggs at the weak-side linebacker position.
The team is going to miss his leadership this season, and with both Briggs and Charles Tillman done in Chicago, the Smith era has officially come to an end. It’s a sad day in many ways for Bears fans, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the club’s young crop of linebackers.
Briggs will go down as one of the greatest linebackers to ever play for the Chicago Bears. It’s been a pleasure watching him play the past 12 years.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.