Because certain NFL talent evaluators, including the Bears' front office, were of the mindset that with a healthy offseason of training under his belt, Urlacher still had the potential to be an effective player in 2013.
Former Denver Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said two weeks ago on ESPN 1000's “Chicago's Gamenight” that he expected interest in Urlacher to start picking up after June 1 when teams are in a better position to free up additional salary cap space before heading to training camp in July.
"Absolutely, I absolutely would (take a hard look at Urlacher)," Sundquist said. "Now, is Brian Urlacher the same guy he was a number of years ago? No. But he brings a savvy, an understanding, an instinct and a hard-nose style of play that you can build around. I look for players at this particular point in their career to raise the level of other players around them. So yes, I would (take a strong look at him)."
But Urlacher didn't sound comfortable with the prospect of just being an OK player this fall. When a person achieves a level of greatness at his or her profession over a long period of time, anything less than great results are usually deemed unacceptable.
Urlacher conceded to ESPN 1000's “Waddle and Silvy Show” that his problematic knee “felt great," but he seemed to partially base his decision to retire on the reality that he would never be the same player he was before the injury at the end of the 2011 regular season.
“My knee feels great, finally,” Urlacher said. “This is the first I got to work out and not just do rehab. ... But I can look at myself in the mirror and say 'There's no way I'll be the player I used to be, or what I think I need to be out there.' Mentally? Yeah, I have it. But physically, I'm not what I used to be. There's no doubt about that. My knee is never going to be the same. I saw that last year, even when I started getting better. I'll never be able to move like I want to. ... I can't do what I want to do and it's frustrating.
“We talked to every team in the NFL, and maybe in July or August it would have happened, but I'm not going to wait. I want to be somewhere where somebody wants me. I don't want to go somewhere where, 'Oh, so-and-so got hurt, we need you.' I don't want that to be the situation.”
That's an understandable reaction from a player who achieved incredible success over a decorated 13-year NFL career and is financially set for the rest of his life, especially after his long-time head coach Lovie Smith got fired on December 31 -- Urlacher said he would “one-hundred percent” still be in a uniform if Smith had a head coaching gig in 2013.
But let's address the white elephant in the room: was Urlacher really that bad in 2012?
Outside of Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, can you name me another veteran player who could miss essentially the entire offseason and training camp due to a knee injury, show up cold Week 1, and still record 88 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and return one interception 46 yards for a touchdown?
Urlacher shouldn't be chastised for his performance last year. He tried to pull off the impossible and actually got better as the year wore on before the hamstring injury versus Seattle prematurely ended his season with four games to go.
The greatest gift a player can receive is the chance to go out on his own terms. Urlacher sounds content and at peace with his decision, and in the end, that's what matters. But it doesn't sit well with me that Urlacher's final NFL play ended with him limping off the Soldier Field turf after the second-to-last snap of an overtime loss to Seattle.
In my mind, with a healthier knee, Urlacher starts 16 games and posts 100-plus tackles for some team in 2013. And who knows, maybe the team that ultimately would have signed Urlacher wins the Super Bowl and he goes out like the champion he is.
Guess we'll never know. And for me, that's kind of difficult to accept.
Matt Cashore/US PresswireJeff Samardzija said he was a fan of Brian Urlacher ever since his football days at ND.
Urlacher announced his retirement on Wednesday, after 13 years in the NFL, the same day Samardzija threw seven innings of one-run ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the news of Urlacher's retirement didn't escape Samardzija.
"What a perfect guy to have in that spot on that team," Samardzija said. "I was always a fan of his, it's a sad day."
Samardzija grew up in northern Indiana and was an All-American receiver at Notre Dame, so he followed the Bears and Urlacher from the beginning of his career to the end.
Jay) Cutler is tough, man," Urlacher said on "Mike & Mike In The Morning" on ESPN Radio. "I know a lot of people don't like him, and this and that, but I played against him when he was in Denver and I played with him in Chicago, and I'd just rather play with him in Chicago. He's a tough dude."
Urlacher also mentioned Brett Favre, which wouldn't surprise anyone, but as Urlacher mentioned, Cutler is a polarizing figure whose toughness was unfairly questioned by players and fans alike when he couldn't play in the second half of the 2011 NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers. It was later learned he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, and while he tried to play, he couldn't.
Considering the number of hits he's taken since arriving in Chicago in 2009, and being able to bounce back from almost all of them, Cutler being described as tough shouldn't surprise anyone.
Urlacher and Lewis, who will be on the 2018 ballot for Canton, have been compared throughout their careers. Now that the final chapters have been written on their storied careers, who was the superior player?
ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and Jon Greenberg state the case for each.
Championship make difference for Lewis
Brian Urlacher is one of the greatest athletes to ever play the middle linebacker position.
There is little doubt, at least in the mind of this reporter who covered Urlacher for the final nine years of his NFL career, that he is worthy of being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But when asked to compare the legacies of Urlacher and fellow recently retired middle linebacker Ray Lewis, it's difficult to argue that Lewis did not have the better overall career of the two, who will be on the same Canton ballot in 2018.
An athletic freak at 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, Urlacher revolutionized the middle linebacker spot in the 4-3 "Cover-2" defense the Bears played under former coach Lovie Smith since 2004. There was nobody better at cutting off the middle of the field than Urlacher, who also excelled in the Bears' 4-3 style of defense implemented by Dick Jauron and Greg Blache from 2000-03.
But Urlacher never won a championship.
Lewis won two with the Ravens, and managed to go out in a manner that most professional athletes can only dream of -- as a winner.
Lewis played for 17 seasons, was named first-team All Pro seven times, earned 13 trips to the Pro Bowl, was twice named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and took home Super Bowl XXXV MVP honors.
Urlacher's career spanned 13 seasons and included five first-team All Pro selections, eight Pro Bowl appearances and one NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Again, both are Hall of Famers. But Lewis has the edge.
Now, it's not Urlacher's fault that Lewis played on better teams throughout his time in the NFL, although the Bears' defense from 2005-06 was the top unit in the league.
But when the assignment is to determine which player had the better overall run, championships and awards do matter.
They matter a lot.
In this generation, Urlacher takes a backseat to almost nobody, except for Lewis.
Urlacher's approach sets him apart
Comparing Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher is a task best left to sportswriters with too much time on their hands. They were both great, so what's the big deal?
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireBrian Urlacher played a hybrid role in Lovie Smith's Cover 2 scheme.
Both were ferocious hitters with speed to burn in their younger days who settled into roles as veteran leaders and future Hall of Famers.
Lewis was loud, Urlacher was quiet. Lewis could never completely live down that awful night in Atlanta, Urlacher once dated Paris Hilton.
Both personify their teams, though in Lewis' case, he basically created the Baltimore Ravens mystique and he won two Super Bowls. Urlacher carried the middle linebacker legacy in Chicago.
Despite the absence of Super Bowl rings, I wouldn't put Urlacher second to anyone, even Lewis.
Imagine if Urlacher had been drafted into that Ravens' defense. Instead, he came to the Bears, which was perfect, I suppose, because this is where the middle linebacker was created, and the ex-safety became the heir to George, Butkus and Singletary. But imagine Urlacher unleashed.
And with Smith came his defense, rooted in Cover-2 principles, and Urlacher's job morphed into a hybrid, calling signals and directing traffic and patrolling the middle field with either a thrust to the ballcarrier or quarterback (he had 11˝ sacks in Smith's first two seasons) or a backpedal into the secondary, where he picked off 22 passes in 182 games.
He was the defensive MVP in the Bears Super Bowl season with 142 tackles (25 in that legendary game against Arizona), no sacks, just one forced fumble and three interceptions. But he was the heart of that defense, a role he would carry on through his final season.
How many could do what he did? Urlacher's athleticism was his calling card, and just because he wasn't as loud as Lewis, and didn't play for such a demonstrative defense, doesn't mean he suffers in comparison.
Urlacher was beloved by his teammates and coaches, and I can't imagine any of them would trade Urlacher for Lewis. He never put on any airs, never danced like a goon. He didn't play football as if it owed something to him, but rather as a game he enjoyed.
-- Jon Greenberg
We don't know much about receivers either; Brandon Marshall is like a Martian in the context of Chicago's football history.
But linebackers we know. Great linebackers we've watched in abundance. George, Butkus, Singletary, Urlacher. It's a linebacker's Mount Rushmore. Linebackers are to the Bears what centers are to the Lakers: Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, Shaq.
Read the entire story.
"It depends on what they do on offense," Urlacher said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" after announcing his retirement. "I think their defense is a Super Bowl defense, no doubt about it.
"And we've been that way for a long time. We've always been that caliber, we just can't get over the hump. If we protect our quarterback, which I think we'll be able to do this year, they made some good adjustments there up front, but I don't know. I thought we were (contenders) last year. We stunk."
The Bears' offense was 28th in total yards and yards per game last season while their defense was fifth in both categories as the team finished 10-6 and out of the playoffs.
On the day he announced his retirement, Urlacher told ESPN 1000 that he could never get his mind around playing for another team and was especially averse to answering a midsummer emergency call. The Vikings are giving veteran Erin Henderson a spring look at the position, and the thought had been that only a season-ending injury or a complete flop would have prompted the Vikings to call Urlacher.
"I didn't want to put another jersey on for any other team," Urlacher said. "Obviously it wasn't going to be for the Bears this year, so I thought it was the right thing to do to shut it down. …
"We talked to every team in the NFL, and maybe in July or August it would have happened, but I'm not going to wait. I want to be somewhere where somebody wants me. I don't want to go somewhere where, 'Oh, so-and-so got hurt, we need you.' I don't want that to be the situation.
"The Bears offered me the contract they offered me, and that was probably the best contract I was going to get from anywhere. And I'm not going to put my body through what it goes through for what the offer was."
And for those of you wondering if Urlacher could be lured from retirement, he insisted he plans to file his retirement papers immediately and has no interest in a comeback.
You can listen to ESPN 1000's entire 20-minute interview here.
Reviewing the Pro Football Hall of Fame's list of middle linebackers is a sobering experience.
The position is well-represented, but almost all of the enshrinees -- Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert and Willie Lanier among them -- are drawn from a long-gone era of NFL defenses. In fact, former Chicago Bears star Mike Singletary is the only current Hall of Fame middle linebacker whose career started in the past 36 years.
The best case to be made for Brian Urlacher's candidacy, now that he has announced his retirement, is that his career reversed the decades-long decline in the value of the position. Along with the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis, Urlacher modernized middle linebacking by adding speed and regular playmaking to the traditional role of helmet-jarring hits and fierce leadership.
Hall of Fame players can't simply be top performers over a period of NFL seasons. In a competitive environment where ballots are limited to five enshrinees per year, candidates must stand out. Some might be the best players in a generation, but if their position is as undervalued as middle linebacker has been over the past few decades, they also would need to have changed or impacted the game in a unique way.
I think Urlacher did that. It helped that he was drafted by a team that soon moved to a scheme that perfectly fit a middle linebacker who could run like a safety. It also helped that in his best years, Urlacher had some stud defensive tackles in front of him who limited free shots from offensive linemen.
Regardless, the Bears' defense in the Lovie Smith era wouldn't have worked without Urlacher covering the deep third of the field while also holding his own at the line of scrimmage. His ability to get 25 yards downfield, in between chasing runners from sideline to sideline, was a new development for the modern-day middle linebacker.
When Urlacher was sidelined, for 15 games in 2009 and four games last season, the Bears' defense dipped noticeably and obviously, especially against the pass. In the games that Urlacher missed over that stretch, opponents' Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) rose from 39.5 to 60.1 (on a scale of 0-100), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
He is one of four players in NFL history with at least 40 sacks and 20 interceptions in his career, as the chart shows, and he is one of seven players to win the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year award. Of the other six, three are in the Hall of Fame and two others aren't yet eligible.
Urlacher's résumé of sustained elite performances, even after his 2009 wrist injury, and his notable impact on how the game is played merit Hall of Fame enshrinement. How long it will take for him to be elected is almost a silly discussion. We don't know what the backlog will be like in 2018, but there is a pretty strong group of players who will be eligible for the first time alongside Urlacher. The group includes Lewis, Steve Hutchinson, Ronde Barber and perhaps Randy Moss.
Timing, of course, is but a detail. I'm sure there will be plenty of discussion between now and then. But you would think Canton has room for Brian Urlacher. Frankly, he made that space for himself.
What made Brian Urlacher special? You have to start, of course, with the way a 6-foot-4, 258-pound man could run, hit and organize a defense on the field. But even an occasional in-person observer of the Chicago Bears over the past decade could notice the reverential stature Urlacher held with his teammates.
If he had enemies, they never surfaced. Urlacher mixed equal doses of dry humor, man's-man competitiveness and two-way respect to keep the Bears' locker room humming smoothly and largely conflict-free during his tenure. So in the moments after Urlacher announced his retirement, I caught up with former Bears defensive lineman Dusty Dvoracek -- who now hosts a sports radio talk show on The Sports Talk Network in Norman, Okla. -- to get a better sense for how Urlacher managed to cast such a popular web.
"Once you became a teammate of Brian Urlacher, you would get the best teammate you could ever ask for," Dvoracek said. "He was one of the biggest superstars in the NFL, but he acted like an average Joe, even to people coming in as a rookie. That matters to people and they don't forget it.
"The first week I was there, he opened up his house and invited me over. It wasn't just me. It was everybody. Not just me. Everybody. He tried to make it as easy and as comfortable for everyone. He was very accepting if you were on his team. He wanted you to do well so the team would do well."
In big media settings, of course, Urlacher could be as grumpy as any player I've covered. His answers could be short, snippy and designed to end the questioning altogether. I told Dvoracek that it was always fascinating to me that a player who seemed as cranky as Urlacher could be so universally hailed and beloved as a leader.
"He is about as opposite of that as you can be in personal life," Dvoracek said. "He really is as nice and as kindhearted a guy as you're going to find in the NFL. A lot of guys put on a show for [the] camera, and behind it they're a jerk. I don't want to say that Brian was the reverse because I don't think he was a jerk to the cameras, but what we saw behind the scenes was genuine and real.
"I mean, he really is a happy guy. He loves to compete at everything he does. He's good at everything. It ticks you off. Whether you're playing pingpong, shuffleboard, basketball or golf, he's really good at everything he does. He's super competitive but really just likes to have a good time with the guys."
Even competitors recognized and appreciated that approach. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the Chicago Tribune earlier this spring that "I always appreciated his ability to enjoy the game while being competitive. He plays the game with a lot of class and professionalism. He does it the right way."
Rodgers added that when playing the Bears, "you never had to worry about cheap shots around the pile or after the whistle. They played the right way and it was led by Brian."
Emotions always run high when a superstar retires, and those who spent time around him tend to wax nostalgic. They are already beginning the work toward cementing a legend. Based on what we've heard about Urlacher over the years, that work shouldn't be hard.
Congratulations to linebacker Brian Urlacher, who found peace and satisfaction with his 13-year career Wednesday rather than extending it beyond what felt organic to everyone -- most importantly him.
The assumption has always been that Urlacher, who turns 35 on Saturday, would play for the Chicago Bears or no one in 2013. He parted ways with the Bears in March, and on Wednesday he confirmed the latter part of that supposition. In announcing his retirement, Urlacher acknowledged with stark honesty that "I'm not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that's up to my standards."
Many potential Hall of Famers change teams before ending their careers, but few were in the position Urlacher faced this offseason. The Bears appeared ambivalent at best about his return, and if he received an offer from another team, it has not been reported. In essence, Urlacher was waiting for another middle linebacker to suffer a season-ending injury or for another team to grow dissatisfied with its starter.
In either event, Urlacher would have been nothing more than a low-paid mercenary after 13 years as one of the NFL's top players. I don't blame him a bit for feeling conflicted about those prospects, especially considering the value he placed in his statement to having played exclusively for the Bears over the years.
We'll have more on Urlacher's career a bit later on the blog, including the obvious question: Will he be elected to the Hall of Fame? But for now, let's recognize and praise Urlacher for accepting his lot rather than allowing pride to cloud his judgment.
Sando has a comprehensive chart ranking teams by the average age of their projected starters, ostensibly the most important 22 players on the roster. (Specialists weren't included, mostly because age isn't as relevant for them.) Naturally, there are some best guesses involved when you're looking at a starting lineup in May, but most teams have provided enough clues either through minicamps or organized team activities (OTAs) to make a reasonable projection.
As it turns out, the Chicago Bears have the NFL's oldest set of starters when viewed in this way. As it stands now, their starting defense includes four players who are at least 30 and two more who are 29. That figure could change if either (or both) of their two rookie linebackers, Jon Bostic (22) and Khaseem Greene (22) win a starting job. But for now, the Bears' starting linebackers are Lance Briggs (32), D.J. Williams (30) and James Anderson (29). They are set to play alongside defensive end Julius Peppers (33), cornerback Charles Tillman (32) and cornerback Tim Jennings (29).
The Detroit Lions rank No. 16 overall largely because their offensive starters are the NFL's sixth-oldest, headed by center Dominic Raiola (34), receiver Nate Burleson (31) and tight end Tony Scheffler (30). For the purposes of this projection, Corey Hilliard (28) is considered the right tackle over Jason Fox (25).
Meanwhile, starters from the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers rank among the NFL's nine youngest.
Making a value judgment here is much harder than compiling the figures. Younger isn't necessarily better, especially at key positions, unless it represents a longer-term fixture at the position. And in some cases, age represents the staying power of an elite player. For 2013, at least, I'm sure the Bears would prefer Briggs over, say, the Lions' DeAndre Levy (26) or the Packers' Nick Perry (23).
NFL team-building can be cyclical, however. What we can say, I think, is that teams with older starters have more urgency to identify and develop their next generation of players. Presumably, those with younger starters have already begun that process.
Related: The Packers and Vikings lead the division, respectively, with draft picks remaining on their roster.
Gould also tweeted that “he’s excited to get back on the field with my teammates tomorrow.”
ESPNChicago.com reported on Monday that Gould was scheduled to travel to Dallas on Tuesday to meet with surgeon Dr. Daniel Cooper, who operated on Gould early in the offseason to repair a ruptured semitendinosus tendon in the kicker’s left leg.
Following Gould’s appointment with Cooper, the former All-Pro returned to Chicago where he met with Bears’ team doctors early Wednesday morning and received medical clearance to resume kicking duties for the first time since Gould got placed on injured reserve on December 11.
With Gould back in the fold, the only Bears’ starter that remains sidelined due to injury is wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who continues to recover from offseason hip surgery. Marshall has been present at both of the club’s organized team activities that have been open to the media, but he did not participate.
The Bears have a total of five organized team activities left in the offseason program, plus a mandatory veteran minicamp that is scheduled to run from June 11-13.