The Next Step for Brian Urlacher and the Bears

Leon Halip

Brian Urlacher's a free agent with leverage and the Bears are a team with a gaping hole at linebacker - should the Bears' overpay for the linebacker's services?

The Bears are kind of at a crossroads with Brian Urlacher, as the signings of Nick Roach to Oakland and Geno Hayes to Jacksonville pushed the Bears' linebacking woes further into the limelight, as does interest from the Minnesota Vikings in the linebacker. Not to mention Urlacher's injured knee from last offseason as well as the hamstring injury he suffered last season.

But re-signing Urlacher goes beyond merely signing the linebacker. Urlacher has more leverage than the Bears at this point - the Bears have a drastic need, Urlacher has legitimate interest from another team, and there aren't as many replacements out on the open market. Daryl Smith, Justin Durant, DJ Williams and Rey Maualuga could be decent players at the MLB, but the biggest problem the Bears have is the cap. They still have moves available to them; however, the big cards have already been played in the releases of Kellen Davis, Matt Toeaina and Matt Spaeth.

The cheapest way to reload the linebacker position is in the draft, with a couple linebackers in first-round consideration and a couple in range of the Bears' 20th pick. However, there's no guarantee those players will contribute in their rookie years, and generally, the Bears know what they have gotten and can get from Urlacher.

At this point, the simplest way for Urlacher to remain a Bear is to accept a hometown discount; given his leverage, that doesn't seem ultimately likely, and particularly for a declining player. Urlacher knows how to play the 4-3 defense and the Tampa 2; with a new defensive coordinator in Mel Tucker running a 4-3, the question is how much does Tucker keep things the same. How much deep coverage can Urlacher continue to play? Can Urlacher get himself into position to stop the run?

And the Bears can't overpay Urlacher simply on the basis of being a Bear and an onfield leader. Onfield leadership is a great thing and underrated at times, but leadership doesn't prevent a deep pass from sailing over the linebacker's head into the tight end's arms for a touchdown.

So, Bears fans... Where's your break-even line? How much do you pay Urlacher? How about planning for his departure - do you continue to look for a "next Urlacher" or do you look for a different type of player? Without the Tampa 2, do you need an Urlacher-type player?

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