It is a long way until the 2013 NFL regular season officially begins. That leaves plenty of time for drama to unfold, namely around roster decisions. One favorite thing fans like to do year in and year out is play the game of what-if. By definition, a what-if is when a question is posed about what would happen when something is changed in the past, present or future. The Chicago Bears have plenty of what-ifs to consider heading into a pivotal year. First and foremost is the lingering question about dearly departed linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Phil Emery knew what he was up against before the off-season even started. Urlacher was obviously the big fish entering free agency (after Henry Melton) but he also had Nick Roach to worry about, not to mention the prospect of no legitimate young talent behind them. Common sense said he should use his limited salary cap to bring at least Urlacher back to keep the Bears defense under proper leadership. Instead Emery took a cheaper, more business-like route. He avoided long-term contracts for both veteran players and handed out one-year deals to D.J. Williams and James Anderson. Each come in with solid playing experience and something Emery covets in his players: speed. That alone made it difficult to see Chicago reconciling with Urlacher after they publicly declared contract talks were at an end.
Perhaps the proverbial "nail in the coffin" came on draft weekend when they took not one but two linebackers. Jon Bostic comes from a proven program in Florida where he piled up lots of experience in the middle of a great defense. Fellow draft pick Khaseem Greene joins him from Rutgers out of an eerily similar background to Brian in that he too started as a safety before converting. Each player brings youth, speed, and extra talent to a group that suddenly looks like a team strength this season. That leaves the window for a return all but shut.
Yet, cliché as it may sound, anything is possible. There are factors still in play that could get the two sides talking again. Urlacher still hasn't drawn much interest from other teams despite his proven history. Most are likely wary of his two previous leg injuries that robbed him of his trademark speed. At this point his only value is to a team that runs a 4-3 style defense that needs linebacker help badly enough they would sign a 34-year old coming off knee and hamstring problems. In simple terms that is nobody. The Minnesota Vikings were the only real threat given their holes on defense but that seems to have fizzled out.
So Urlacher's best hope to salvage one more year is to convince the Bears that he can a.) Still play at a high level and b.) Become a willing teacher to the young rookies they've collected. Perhaps most important is the same reason he left in the first place. He will have to lower his price. Chicago doesn't have the cap space to meet the $3.5 million he asked for and may not even have enough to offer the $2 million they set as their offer when free agency started. Pride and ego almost always get in the way of things like this. It's a fact of sports and every other business. Regardless, Urlacher still has value given his leadership and knowledge of the defense. Passing up a chance to have him impart that wisdom onto the next generation is a little short-sighted.
Whatever leverage Brian Urlacher might've had over the Chicago Bears ended when they added four accomplished linebackers in the space of a month and a half. If he wants to play now he has to wait for a roster spot to open up on another team because of an injury or he must do something every athlete fears the most. He must swallow his pride, pick up the phone and accept whatever price Phil Emery puts on the table.