Lance Briggs exhibits his power on Sundays as one of the best outside linebackers in professional football. Unbelievably strong at 6'1" and remarkably fast at 240 pounds, he pairs with middle `backer Brian Urlacher to form arguably the most dominant LB combination in the league. Briggs earned his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and thought he was in line for a big payday thanks to his impending free agency.
Unfortunately for Briggs, the Chicago Bears proved that they are the only ones with the power to make that happen.
GM Jerry Angelo had never used the franchise tag during his tenure in the Windy City, but he simply had to do so in order to secure Briggs' services for at least one more season. The former Arizona Wildcat is now guaranteed a one-year tender offer of $7.2 million for 2007, and while that is an astronomical jump from what he was paid a year ago, it is not the long-term deal Briggs and his agent, the infamous Drew Rosenhaus, are seeking. Adalius Thomas, another Pro Bowl outside linebacker, just signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with New England.
Briggs has voiced his displeasure with Angelo's decision and demanded that the organization either trade him or lift the franchise designation immediately.
"I've played my last snap for them," Briggs said recently. "I'll never play another down for Chicago again."
The latest revelation is Briggs claiming that he is prepared to sit out the entire 2007 season. The Bears do have until July 16 to work out a long-term contract with their former third-round pick, but Angelo seems very reluctant to do so. With Urlacher already signed to a colossal extension through 2011 and Pro-Bowlers Tommie Harris and Nathan Vasher due to sit at the negotiating table soon, the team simply can not justify tying up that much money at one position.
And what if Briggs follows through with his threat to watch from home next year? First of all, he will forfeit about $450,000 for each game he misses, which is more than what he made in base salary all of last season. Additionally, if he does not return, he will not be credited with a year of NFL service and remains property of the Bears for 2008.
Briggs must be with the Monsters of the Midway for six games in order to get that year of service, so if he's going to come back, he might as well come back for the entire 16-game schedule and cash in on every penny of that $7.2 million that is promised to him.
Nevertheless, Briggs is standing by his threat of a holdout.
"There are a lot of different options, a lot of different decisions that could happen as the season comes closer," said Briggs. "But that's one of those options."
The truth of the matter is, he has very few options at this point. Angelo has no desire to give into Briggs' demands since he is holding all the cards. If Briggs sits, he'll be missing out on one of the prime seasons of his career and will probably cost himself even more money in the long run. If he returns and doesn't play to the best of his ability as some sort of protest, he'll diminish his perceived value on the free agent market in 2008. He has no leverage right now.
Simply stated, the best thing Briggs can do is to have the best performance of his life next season, collect that guaranteed $7.2 million, and possibly make himself even more attractive in the eyes of potential suitors when his commitment to the Bears is finally in the rearview mirror.
Understandably, Briggs hates the idea of being used for one more year if the organization has no plans to commit to him for the future.
"In my opinion, there is no intention on a long-term deal here," he said. "And if you don't have me in your plans for the long term, then I don't want to be here."
To play devil's advocate, Briggs certainly has an argument considering he's played at an All-Pro level despite a minimum salary. A great deal of the success the Bears have enjoyed lately is due to his role on one of the best defenses in the NFL. He's been incredibly durable on the field, highly productive on the stat sheet, widely respected in the locker room, and universally popular with the fans.
However, he's bluffing against a full house.
The most he can hope for is that the organization will grow tired of the soap opera he's creating and trade him away to another team willing to reward him with the lucrative contract he covets, but that's quite unlikely at this point. The Bears are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and in position to make another title run, so saying goodbye to one of their premier players for 50 cents on the dollar would be a big mistake. Assuming the team can weather his storm the next few months, Briggs will be forced to crawl back to Halas Hall and reclaim his spot next to Urlacher.
He may not be happy about it, but so long as Briggs maintains his Pro Bowl ways, the Bears will be getting what they want.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|