One of the most difficult things for players and fans to see happen is when their legendary players are no longer wanted by a teams front office. Such is the case right now with the Bears’ Brian Urlacher who was offered all of $2 million dollars, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times, to continue to remain a member of the Bears. Urlacher was insulted by the offer and now says he will play for another team.
In some instances I think teams will fall on the salary cap as a crutch, saying it just cant work because of the salary cap. I believe it was on Mike and Mike the other morning on ESPN that they were saying how the NFL needs to find a way for cap exemptions for such players, similar to the Bird clauses in the NBA. I don’t think the Bears ever said that in this situation, but in most cases I think it is just a team saying it is time to move on and trying to use the cap as an excuse. Urlacher will be 35 years old when the 2013 season begins. Not many teams are willing to go deep into a player that old.
I am sure in Urlacher’s mind and heart that he feels he is the Ray Lewis of Chicago. When Lewis was 34 years old the Ravens did not go out of their way to re-sign their star ILB. Lewis at the time hoped to negotiate with the New York Jets, among other teams, but that never really got off the ground. Teams had an idea that Lewis was just going to go back with the Ravens with an offer. The Jets instead signed Bart Scott, far less accomplished but 5 years younger, to a 6 year $48 million dollar deal with nearly $22 million in fully guaranteed money. Lewis had to settle for a $6.357 million dollar a year contract with only $6.25 million in firm guarantees. The Jets were ready to cut Scott by 2012 while Lewis’ team won the Super Bowl and he promptly retired. The age thing can sometimes be overrated and I would think Urlacher feels the same way. According to Jensen Urlacher was looking for $11 million over 2 years which is less then Lewis received in the first two years of his final contract, but somewhat in line with the annual value.
Unfortunately for Urlacher he and his agent may have made some mistakes along the way which didn’t allow him the opportunity to be free at an age of 32 or 33 when he may have had a chance to earn more money. In 2003, after just 3 seasons in the NFL, he agreed to a 7 year extension that would keep him under contract in Chicago until he was 34 years old. With the landscape of the league changing Urlacher then tacked another year onto the deal in 2008 to bring his APY more in line with the rest of the NFL. This would not allow him to taste free agency until the season he was set to turn 35. Had they opted for a shorter extension early on he may not be in the situation he is in now trying to find a team in a soft market where no veteran players are finding homes.
All that being said Urlacher has had a fine career with the Bears and been paid incredibly well for his time in the NFL. Though he missed out on his free agency time Urlacher ended up earning around $78,525,000 from the Bears. Ray Lewis, who in fairness began four years earlier, only earned $68,775,000 over the first 13 years of his career. He needed to play longer to match Urlacher’s compensation. Both are Hall Of Fame players but Lewis is in the argument for greatest middle linebacker of all time, Urlacher is not. Urlacher is understandably upset at the organization right now, but the Bears have treated him very well over his tenure in Chicago and hopefully people do not lose sight of that at the potential end of the relationship.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.