As you probably know, the Bears have announced that they've moved on from Brian Urlacher. For the first time in thirteen years, the Bears will go into the season with a different starting MLB.Urlacher supposedly was given an offer of one year, $2 million and opted not to take it. We'll see how that works out for him.
Let's get the basics out of the way before I move on:
1) This was the right move. Anyone who wants to deny that Urlacher was not very good last year is a fool. His numbers were down, Pro Football Focus had him graded at -11.2, and he suffered two major injuries in two years. His on-field play was highly unlikely to return to form. The Bears could very easily replace his production from last year with a street free agent or a rookie. As for his play from 2000-2011, well, Brian wasn't going to give that to you either.
2) Phil Emery is going to take a lot of shit. The word disrespect will be thrown out a lot. Urlacher's leadership will be mentioned incessantly. His teammates will be interviewed and the locker room will be "upset." All of this was said about Olin Kreutz, and he was terrible before retiring less than half of the way through the season. None of these intangibles will add up to a good football player anymore, and none of them would justify committing precious resources to a burned-out player. As for the locker room? They'll shut up and play football because it's their fucking job. Also, understand that the same columnists and jackasses who will wax nostalgic about Brian and criticize the Bears for letting him go are the exact same people who got an entire summer's worth of work out of writing about how the Bears were foolish not to realize he was done last year.
3) I'm aware this leaves the Bears "thin" at linebacker. I have a crazy gut instinct though that they will add players before the season starts in September. This is because I am psychic and can see beyond your mortal realm.
All of the sarcasm aside, this is still sad news, even if it's not bad news. It's difficult to explain what Brian Urlacher meant to any Bears fans who are my age. Those of us who were born or grew up after the Ditka Bears had long since retired or declined spent years suffering at the hands of Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron without a single thing to hang our hat on. The team desperately tried to make names out of guys like Erik Kramer, Curtis Conway, and Big Cat Williams, but no one outside of Chicago truly cared.
Urlacher didn't bring respectability to the franchise, as some may say. They were still embarrassing for a good part of his career. But he did give you a reason to watch besides sheer obligation. He was exciting. He was dominant. He had a combination of speed and power that we're probably not going to see again at that position in a generation. He was a Bear worthy of comparison to the guys our Dads rooted for, and we loved him for it.
He was frequently derided as overrated, and to some extent he was. He was a Hall of Fame player, but we had nothing else and so we made him out to be even more than that. We bought his jersey in record numbers and brought him unwarranted criticism just because people were tired of hearing us talk about him even while the team was going 4-12, but he was something to root for, and we really, really needed that.
Later in his career the team really did become respectable, and unlike Sammy Sosa, the last Chicago superstar to make a living out of being the hero of a terrible franchise, he wasn't threatened by the emergence of other stars like Briggs, Tillman, Forte, or even Cutler. He wanted to win. It's a shame they never won it all with him on the roster. They were close, and no one fought harder than he did to get there.
So yes, today is a sad day. I'm sure Erik will have his work cut out for him fighting off the tidal wave of stupid this will unleash, but today we can at least agree with the meatheads on one point. It will really suck to not have Brian Urlacher anymore, even if they won't understand that the Brian Urlacher we all loved disappeared with his knee ligaments in Minnesota last year.