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MUSICK: Bears make right call on creaky Urlacher

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 8:46 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:24 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Marcio Jose Sanchez)
FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2012, file photo, Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) warms up before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco. The Bears announced on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, that they were unable to reach a contract agreement with Urlacher, who is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

After more than a few uncertain days and nights, the Bears have decided to move on.

Before long, so will Brian Urlacher.

And so should the rest of us.

At the risk of losing my self-proclaimed title as World’s Most Beloved And Devastatingly Good-Looking Sports Columnist of 2013, this is how I feel about Urlacher’s departure: The Bears made the right decision.

It was a really tough decision, but it was the right decision.

I’ll pause for angry dissidents to post nasty comments below the online version of this story (you can scribble them on the print version and mail it to me).

And … we’re back.

Hi.

Anyway, we all know the details of the story by now. The Bears spent the majority of their free-agent budget on tight end Martellus Bennett and offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, not to mention re-signing defensive tackle Henry Melton, which left little to offer to Urlacher.

A bargain-bin deal remained possible until Wednesday, when the Bears announced they would not re-sign the eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker who so famously wore No. 54.

“We were unable to reach an agreement with Brian,” general manager Phil Emery said in a statement released by the team, “and both sides have decided to move forward.”

Make that one side.

“It was not a negotiation it was an ultimatum,” Urlacher wrote on his Twitter page Wednesday evening. “Gonna miss my teammates.”

Urlacher’s prickliness is understandable. He gave so much to the franchise for so many Sunday afternoons, and it stings to be told that your services are no longer necessary.

Look, it’s going to feel really strange and more than a little sad to see someone else barking out plays at middle linebacker next season. Urlacher was as much a symbol of modern-day Chicago as world-class architecture, deep-dish pizza and government corruption.

But Urlacher will turn 35 years old in May – ancient by NFL standards. He has battled injuries to his neck, back, wrist, knee and calf. His greatest asset, speed, has all but disappeared.

It happens to everybody.

Urlacher knew as well as anyone that it would happen to him.

In 2010, Urlacher was within a handful of tackles of the Bears’ all-time record. That’s a pretty incredible feat when you consider how many great tacklers have played for this team.

The Bears were about to go on the road to play the Miami Dolphins in a Thursday night game. Barring injury, Urlacher was going to break the record.

I asked him what being the franchise’s all-time tackle leader would mean to him.

“It probably means Lance is going to pass me in a couple years,” Urlacher said with a shrug.

He’s right, you know.

Lance Briggs has amassed 1,414 career tackles, according to the Bears’ statistics. If he plays a few more seasons with the team, he likely will break Urlacher’s record of 1,779 tackles.

Then again, Briggs could be finished with the Bears before he reaches that mark.

It stinks, but it happens.

Some will argue that the Bears should have kept Urlacher until an adequate replacement was ready to take over in the middle of the defense. Others will say the Bears needed him for his leadership and locker-room presence, even if his career was on the decline.

I don’t buy either argument.

The Bears have no shortage of defensive leaders, starting with Briggs, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers. And while I don’t envy the player who follows Urlacher at middle linebacker, the fact is that the Bears sorely need to get younger and faster at the position.

Next month’s NFL draft offers an opportunity for a fresh start. Maybe a player such as Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter or Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o will be the answer, or maybe Shea McClellin really was meant to play linebacker, after all.

Regardless, there never will be another Urlacher.

But time catches up with all of us.

It’s time for someone else to step up as the Bears’ next face of the franchise.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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