Lance Briggs: For Love or Money?

Fans are thrilled Lance Briggs is still a member of the Chicago Bears, although it was a soap opera getting to this point. In this preview from the Spring issue of Bear Report, Chris Sprow peels back the layers and wonders how healthy the relationship between player and organization truly is.

In sports, the greatest marriages so often aren't born of a romance of style, performance, personalities, and organizational compatibility. Usually, it's the opposite. And it almost always involves money.

Don't they all?

Kobe Bryant spent his entire offseason essentially lambasting his own team through a regular barrage of subtle jabs. They simply had done nothing to make the marriage work. There he was, out in the field, tending the crops and bringing home what little he could for the family, and his spouses in the Lakers' front office continued to leave that home in disrepair. It was as though Bryant was saying, "I go out and make us millions, and you can't even call in a repair guy to fix the leaky faucet while I'm away? Why do I work so hard to live in squalor?"

He was right, and in the midst of this NBA season, Lakers brass began to notice, got off the couch, and acquired a little talent. In the end, there is what seems like a marriage always predetermined for greatness, and lots of comments about how all the past squabbles were misunderstandings.

It's like the couple telling the kids that the time five years ago, when Daddy through Mommy through the front window and Mommy responded by putting C-4 into the gas tank of Daddy's Viper, was just the wake-up call needed for the marriage to truly work.

So goes the seemingly beautiful "marriage" of the Bears and Lance Briggs. The fact that it was officiated by the always affable Drew Rosenhaus makes it that much more … special?

Well, at least it exists. This is impressive, considering the process that preceded it.

Remember March of last year, and what Briggs was saying in the middle of the honeymoon period after a Super Bowl visit.


Nam Y. Huh/AP Images

"There's a difference between the Chicago Bears team and the Chicago Bears organization," Briggs told ESPN.com. "The Chicago Bears team? The coaches, players, city and fans? Yeah, I could stay there forever. I love it. But the Chicago Bears organization? I don't want to be there anymore. I won't play for them, and I'll do everything in my power to keep from playing there."

This was after the Bears placed the franchise tag on Briggs, and after he'd rejected a contract almost identical to the one he signed almost exactly a year later.

And he was mad.

"They need to either [rescind] the franchise tag and let me move on, or trade me to another team," Briggs said. "Because that's about the only way this thing can have any kind of a positive resolution."

Of course, the $7.2 million that came with the tag was enough of a pull, and Briggs showed up.

Then, of course, there was the actual season. An average one by league standards, but a disastrous one based on the expectations of the franchise. Briggs played to his typical Pro-Bowl level, with 103 tackles in 14 games compared to 134 in 16 games the year before, and the changing of the guard seemed clear. With Brian Urlacher's age – and bad back – staring the organization in the face, perhaps it was the Bears who first had to acknowledge that Briggs was the younger, more appealing spouse when it came to the linebacking crew. Yet even as he played well and looked more valuable than ever, it was as the leader of a defense that faded.

With Briggs perhaps their best player the Bears defense languished, 26th overall, a distant cry from previous years. Injuries played their role, although some began to question not just if Briggs was the clear heir to Urlacher but whether he was the clear choice to pay a lot of dough to, considering a guy like Jamar Williams could perform in that role with little drop-off. At least this was the speculation.

During this period, Briggs backed down some from his initial threats.

He told various people that he no longer could completely rule out playing for the Bears in the future. His agent reminded us that, all the same, the Bears would be forced to bid on equal footing with everybody else.

By the time the offseason had arrived, the previous impossibility of Briggs landing back in Chicago just wasn't. Less than a year after going on the record and saying, "I am now prepared to sit out the year if the Bears don't trade me or release me. I've played my last snap for them. I'll never play another down for Chicago again," Briggs had, well – softened his stance would be putting it mildly.

"Can I see myself back here? Yeah," Briggs told local media late in the 2007 season. "I can see myself in a lot of uniforms. I can see myself in a Chicago uniform. It's just if things work out that way, which I hope they will. Then I'll be back."

He said he'd given his heart to the city. It was all halfway touching, but it also came from a guy who this magazine called a "mercenary" and had perhaps began to wonder just how much his stock could have grown – if at all.

Can it not be something of an indictment on the value of Briggs that in the year where nearly everybody with knowledge of this team saw him become not just the best linebacker over Urlacher but perhaps the clear leader of the defense, that side of the ball looked worse for a full season than it has in years?


Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

If Briggs is the new general, which army is he leading? It certainly didn't look like the one Urlacher was spearheading in the years before.

Which leads us to now.

Briggs re-signed in February, but it wasn't all some sweet coming together. He and Jerry Angelo didn't race through the field and embrace as the curtains closed. It all seemed more like a matter of odd circumstance. The guy that was drafted nowhere near the first round, and with a career that seems like an organizational stroke of blind luck, maybe just landed here as much as he was fated here.

"I didn't think I was going to be a Chicago Bear. I actually thought I was headed to Washington," Briggs told the Chicago Tribune following the signing of a six-year, $36 million dollar deal. "At the last minute, my agent told me we had a deal with the Bears. We talked for a while, and I told him this was the deal that made sense. I'm not greedy. I'm not trying to knock something out of the park. All I wanted was what's fair. If it's fair, I'm happy."

It may have been fair, but it was also less than Briggs expected. The Pro Bowl year he turned in made him little. In fact, considering a raised cap and inflation, Briggs got less than the Bears offered a year earlier before this soap opera ever began. And that says plenty.

Not only did the Bears struggle as a team, but something in Lance's play as the stalwart on defense reflected poorly in the market. Teams didn't see an outright imposter, mind you – $36 million says neither did the Bears – but they did see the free agent equivalent of a very good player on an average team. Briggs would like to be considered more.

And ultimately, his good offer may have come at the expense of the place where the Bears struggle even worse: on offense. When Bernard Berrian left for Minnesota, leaving the receiving corps virtually anonymous, the this team had a little more in the coffers to at least hang on to one of their own and show some semblance of continuity – to reclaim any last shred of momentum and gleam from that Super Bowl run.

The question now: Is this all that's left?

And was the signing of Briggs over, say, a couple of quality wideouts, really an upgrade to this team? Perhaps it was just a final show of pride in what has been a Chicago institution – linebacker.

We'll see. Briggs is a very good player and will be called on to lead this defense into a new era. His success or failure will be the difference in how we remember this affair. Did the Bears find a soul mate or just do what happens in a lot of marriages?

Did they settle?

Chris Sprow is a regular contributor to Bear Report and BearReport.com. He has recently written for The New York Times and ESPN the Magazine.


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