Brian Urlacher was the ninth overall pick in the first round in 2000, heading straight to the Chicago Bears, and for thirteen seasons he played a cornerstone role in the Bears defense, including the linchpin of Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 defense that yielded four top 10 defenses, three playoff berths and one Super Bowl appearance. His numbers have the potential to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer and he gave current-day fans someone to grow up watching as a defensive icon.
One year ago on Friday, Brian Urlacher retired.
I didn't realize it until Spongie sent me an email about it late last night, which probably speaks to the impact that Phil Emery, Marc Trestman and the overhaul of the linebacking corps last season had on acknowledging and moving on from a once-great player. Adding two free agent linebackers and drafting two more is a pretty quick way to state that he isn't coming back and the team moves on.
Could Urlacher have made a difference in 2013-2014? Who knows, given the state of the down linemen - but it takes a lot of mistakes all across the board to have the third worst defense in the league overall, the worst run defense in the league, and one of the worst defenses in recent Bears memory. Urlacher might have reduced some of those mistakes, but there's nothing saying he wouldn't have been washed out of plays too.
We're officially in the year 2 AU, hopefully a new golden era of Bears football. And while we'll always have Arizona, we no longer have Urlacher.
When you think about it, it's been about as clean a break from the Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher era as it could have been. Last year at this time, Mike, Tom and I (if you're lost here, click the first link above) discussed the massive paradigm shift the Chicago Bears were undergoing in such a short time period (one offseason), having to make a sudden shift from a team with solid to great defense to making offense and more offense a tremendous priority, all while adding pieces to an older, more depleted defense without its sage and key player (Lovie and Urlacher).
As the season went on and we realized our hopes for a "mildly worse" defense were dashed by injuries, bad run fits, a lack of pressure, et cetera, the storylines became more and more offensive-oriented. The Josh McCown Resurgence Story, Brandon Marshall (traded for in 2012) and Alshon Jeffery (the 2012 second-round pick) becoming quite possibly the NFL's top receiving duo, an offensive line that suddenly didn't suck after having four new starters added in one offseason, and the #2 scoring offense in the league, putting an exclamation point on our hopes for a "mildly improved" offense.
In one season post-Urlacher, the Bears have become not the defense's team, but Marc Trestman, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler's team. Sure, additions were made in 2012, but 2013 was the first year that I really felt the Bears were about to make offense a true priority.
Brian Urlacher retired and the Bears played a season of football. They finished 8-8, they went through free agency and the draft, and continued to go about their business (having draft picks signed before other GMs start their word-processors), as is the cycle of the NFL.
Much like the numerous Bears defensive greats before him, Brian Urlacher headlined a defense for over a decade, and now holds the same place in Bears history as many others. His name joins Dick Butkus, Bill George, Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson, and so many others as great defensive players in the team's history.
He's had so many great plays over the course of his career (the Arizona game linked above is one, and here's another collection). Watching them really gives you a sense of the player the Bears had on the field, one that played at a strong, Hall-of-Fame level.
He, like those that came before him, is now a footnote to the current Bears' team.
What are your thoughts on the Bears in the post-Urlacher era? Do you feel good about the direction the team is heading?