A year ago I would have said I couldn't imagine Brian Urlacher in any uniform other than that of the Chicago Bears. Then Peyton happened.
If we ever needed a reminder that the NFL is a business and every player will eventually be an ex-player – or at least a player for another team – we got it with Peyton Manning switching locales last season.
Now we'll see it with Urlacher.
Manning was the face of the Indianapolis Colts. Now he's a Bronco and it doesn't even look so weird anymore. (OK, a little weird but no longer jaw-dropping.)
Urlacher was Da Bears. Now? Now he'll be looking for another team to take a flyer on a 34-year old linebacker with injury issues who believes he has big hits and tackles left in the tank.
The Bears lowballed Urlacher with an offer of one year for $2 million, about a 75 percent pay cut. Urlacher called it “somewhat of a slap in the face.”
I can see his point, and why he's insulted. Urlacher was the heart-and-soul of the Bears for 13 years, the heir to the linebacker throne of Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, a hard-as-nails, no-nonsense old-time football player. Urlacher was the perfect epitome of the blue-collar work ethic that Chicago, the city, has always taken pride in promoting.
Keeping in mind that $2 million is unfathomable to a large portion of our country, it's essentially chump change for a (former?) superstar like Urlacher. He wanted two years, $11.5 million but was open to a little negotiation.
The team, which is in transition from the successful but underrated Lovie Smith era to something else entirely with new coach Marc Trestman, told Urlacher he could stick around at a drastically reduced, bargain-basement price. Maybe they knew he'd turn it down. Probably they knew he'd turn it down.
I can't fault the Bears. They're rebuilding or retooling and while it's painful to say goodbye to popular players and revered stars – again, see: Colts, spring 2012 – it's a necessary part of the business. Few players can say goodbye in their original NFL uniforms. Ray Lewis was the exception. Manning, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, etc., are really the rule.
Over the last few years, the Colts have said goodbye to Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Manning and now Dwight Freeney. NFL time waits for no one.
Urlacher played in only one Super Bowl in his 13 seasons with the Bears, the loss to the Colts in the 2006 season. But he gave the team its personality over the course of his career. Teams knew playing the Bears meant dealing with a stubborn, aggressive defense revolving around Urlacher.
Urlacher has been the face of the franchise for over a decade. It's hard to say who will become the next leading Bear. I suppose it could be Jay Cutler, but no matter how great he plays, I don't ever see him being beloved in the manner of Urlacher or the biggest Bears stars before him. He's still an import in many fans eyes, not a true Bear.
The next Bears star has yet to be revealed, maybe he's yet to move into the NFL.
What we'll see next will be Urlacher in another uniform or street clothes. While the NFL has no sentimentality, teams will spend reasonable money to bring in a veteran who might have one or two more quality years left. I'm not sure Urlacher has much left. The beating he's taken and inflicted on his body by the nature of his position and style of play may signal the end of the line.
Urlacher will find out soon enough in free agency.
We might not have seen the last of Urlacher. But we've seen the last of him in a Bears uniform. There's something sad about that, and inevitable.