Today is a day many Chicago Bears fans never foresaw. The team announced today that Brian Urlacher, who has been unable to come to a contract agreement with the organization, will never again play for the Bears.
Let that sink in for a minute.
According to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, Urlacher said the team offered him a one-year deal that maxed out at $2 million – meaning he wasn't even guaranteed that much.
"It wasn't even an offer, it was an ultimatum," Urlacher told the Tribune. "I feel like I'm a decent football player still. It was insulting, somewhat of a slap in the face.
"They came back with the offer and said, 'This is what it is, take it or leave it. It was, 'If you want to play for the Bears, you'll play for this. If not, then you're not playing for the Bears.'"
Had the Bears been willing to negotiate, Urlacher said he would've played for as low as $3 million.
"I want to be here," Urlacher said. "I wanted to be in Chicago. I wanted to finish here. Now that's not possible."
Since Phil Emery took over as general manager of the Bears, the majority of his major personnel moves have come in an effort to improve the offense. His first transaction in 2012 was trading for Brandon Marshall, giving the club a bona fide No. 1 receiver. He then paid heavily for a backup running back (Michael Bush) and quarterback (Jason Campbell). In the draft, he traded up for a wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) and also grabbed a tight end.
Emery then fired Lovie Smith, a defensive-minded coach, following a 10-6 campaign and brought in Marc Trestman, a career QB coach and offensive coordinator in the NFL, to run the show.
In free agency this offseason, Emery's two big moves were again aimed at improving the offense, signing tight end Martellus Bennett and offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod. To this point, his only moves on defense have been signing two veterans, Nate Collins and Turk McBride, to minimum contracts.
Heading into the offseason, linebacker was the biggest need on the team, with three of the club's top four players becoming free agents: Urlacher, Nick Roach and Geno Hayes. Obviously, Emery made little effort to bring any of them back. Roach signed in Oakland, Hayes in Jacksonville and now Urlacher.
For sure, if the issues at linebacker existed at wide receiver, Emery would have been extremely aggressive upgrading his pass catchers. Yet because linebackers are on the defensive side of the ball, that position gets put on the back burner.
This is a fundamental shift in philosophy where offense, and not defense, is the priority. Over the past decade, NFL rules have handcuffed defenses, with every change in legislature aimed at putting more points on the scoreboard. Over the past two years, scoring has reached all-time levels. It's a trend that isn't going to die out. In fact, it's only just now starting to pick up steam.
Emery, regarded as one of the most intelligent and organized men in football, sees this and has pushed all his chips in the center of the table. His goal is to outscore the opponent by any means necessary, even if that means sacrificing talent on defense.
Let's not kid ourselves, Urlacher was 35 years old and coming off a bad knee, one he admitted would never be the same. There is little to no market for him. If he gets signed elsewhere, it would be very surprising.
He was the face of the franchise and it really is a sad day for Bears fans across the country. But when you consider his age, injury history and the team's current salary cap situation, there really wasn't any other choice. Emery could not afford to eat up half of his remaining cap space with an aging linebacker who is a shell of the player he once was. This is especially so when the sole focus of the front office is to build an offense that can keep up with the Green Bay Packers.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.