Is Briggs a Franchise Player?

Not unexpectedly the salary demands of Pro Bowl LB Lance Briggs would make him the highest paid player in franchise history. The question the Bears have to ask and answer is, what's Briggs worth?

In 2003, Brian Urlacher received a nine-year deal worth $58 million with a $19 million signing bonus. At the time, Urlacher became the highest paid defender in the game. Now the deal seems like a relative bargain for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

After going to his first Pro Bowl, now it's Briggs who seeks a record payday. After just three years in the league, there are few linebackers in the game considered his equal. The 25-year-old is on solid ground for a large contract.

Still there are limits to what the Bears will spend. While general manger Jerry Angelo has emphasized rewarding homegrown talent, he also believes in not committing too much cap space at one position.

Paying Briggs more than Urlacher would not only be disproportionate, but also restrain future spending with other tough decisions on the horizon. DT Ian Scott will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2006. QB Rex Grossman, RB Thomas Jones, C Olin Kreutz, CB Nathan Vasher and CB Charles Tillman are due to hit the open market after 2007.

When Briggs made the switch to agent Drew Rosenhaus it sent a clear signal to the Bears he was seeking top dollar. No one can fault Briggs for wanting as much as he can earn, after all the only guaranteed money a football player usually gets is in bonuses.

However, the seven-year $54 million contract LB Julian Peterson received from the Seattle Seahawks last month put a new spin on negotiations with Briggs. To match or surpass the Peterson deal would send the Bears down a path of self-destruction.

Rosenhaus left Halas Hall Friday without a contract and the two sides appear to be far apart in total worth of the deal. The Bears have two weeks until the draft to find common ground. If compromise can't be found in that time frame, linebacker will be a priority in the first round.

Briggs has gone on record that he doesn't want negotiations to drag into the season. The Bears will still have options to keep the six-foot-1, 240-pounder if no deal is struck. The team could place the franchise tag on him in an attempt to get a deal done or at least signal to other teams it will cost them dearly to acquire Briggs. Angelo has never used the tactic in the past, but the situation could warrant such a move.

If Briggs reaching free agency is the worst-case scenario then letting him go without some type of compensation would only compound the loss. Although Bears will have a trump card to play if it comes to that, getting something done now would benefit all parties.

The Bears could go into the draft with one of their best players locked up, while Briggs will have the security of a well-deserved raise.

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