The following is an e-mail exchange back and forth between BearReport.com Editor in Chief John Crist and Scout.com Senior NFL Reporter Adam Caplan. The subject? Lance Briggs' future in Chicago ...
John Crist: If Rex Grossman is the biggest free-agent-to-be the Bears have on offense, then Lance Briggs is unquestionably the biggest on defense. Briggs was selected to his third straight Pro Bowl in 2007, and while he did enjoy a very good season, it was Brian Urlacher who proved once and for all who truly is the "special" linebacker in Chicago during the last month of the schedule. While I do agree that Briggs is quite reliable and one of the best open-field tacklers in the league, he doesn't rush the passer very well, isn't known for creating turnovers, and is average at best in coverage. Everyone realizes that Lovie Smith's version of the Cover-2 defense funnels plays toward the weak-side linebacker, so he's going to get plenty of opportunities to rack up tackles on a weekly basis. The most likely destination for Briggs seems to be the 49ers since he's from the Sacramento area, but would he even be a good fit for Mike Nolan's 3-4 scheme?
Adam Caplan: It's a totally different scheme, and it wouldn't take advantage of his skill set. Briggs really is seen as a Cover-2 weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense. But many teams that run the system believe you just need a good athlete who can move well laterally – the Colts, who got better defensively this year after letting Cato June depart last offseason, believe this – and there's no need to spend a lot of cap space on the position.
LBs Jamar Williams and Michawl Okwo
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
JC: I'm already assuming that Briggs is as good as gone, mostly because he sounded like a mercenary the few times he actually talked to the media this season and is only interested in getting paid. If that's the case, Jamar Williams, who performed well in Week 16 while Briggs was absent with a hip injury, will be first in line to take over on the weak side. Angelo also drafted Michael Okwo in the third round a year ago, so there will be competition for the position should Briggs be wearing a different uniform. A lot of Bears fans were worried when the likes of Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman left for greener pastures, but neither one of them has done quite as well once he wasn't lining up next to Urlacher – a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And even if this team could afford him, wouldn't it make much more sense for GM Jerry Angelo to spend the Briggs money on more pressing needs like safety and the offensive line?
AC: I would agree that the cap money should go to the offensive line first and then Briggs. If they want to build a solid offense, it starts up front. You can make a case for three new starters – right guard, left guard, and right tackle. As for Briggs' replacement, they felt Okwo was a really good fit for their scheme. As a side note, it's interesting that Briggs and Okwo were both former third-round picks from the Pac-10. My sense is Angelo feels that position might be interchangeable with athletic, young talent. It's too bad with Holdman that he suffered a serious knee injury earlier in his career. It looked like he was going to be a really good player.
JC: Before it became public around midseason that Urlacher was dealing with arthritis in his back, there was chatter around the league that Briggs had taken over as the best linebacker in the Windy City. However, as I hinted earlier, besides being a dynamite tackler in the open field, there really isn't anything he does exceptionally well. Angelo offered him a $33 million contract extension before the 2006 season, but he turned it down because he was convinced -- or possibly his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, convinced him -- that he would be worth much more on the open market. Last offseason, CB Nate Clements got a ridiculous contract from San Francisco and LB Adalius Thomas hit the jackpot in New England, so with the salary cap going up year after year, is there a team out there that will inevitably overpay for Briggs? His public relations team hasn't exactly earned its money with all the idle threats, car wrecks, and paternity suits, but will he ultimately be rewarded in the end with that gigantic deal he wanted all along?
AC: It would probably have to be a Cover-2 team or a team that could use his movement skills. Looking over the list of clubs that run it and also have an opening or a potential opening, I can't see many. In fact, Atlanta, which may not re-sign Demorrio Williams, looks to be the only one that makes sense at this point.
John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.