Chicago Bears: 2013 NFL owners meeting

Brian Urlacher as a transition figure

March, 20, 2013
PHOENIX -- Four days at the NFL owners meeting has helped clear up a portion of Brian Urlacher's continuing contract standoff with the Chicago Bears.

We know that chairman George McCaskey wants Urlacher back with the team but won't influence the final decision of general manager Phil Emery.

It's now overtly clear that the Bears' coaching staff wants Urlacher back as well, a topic we've discussed generally but was confirmed Wednesday by coach Marc Trestman. In discussing the issue at the NFL owners meeting, Trestman said: "We all understand I think that he can help us on the field. I've said that, and I've said that to Brian."

Given the current state of the Bears' roster, I understand why the coaching staff would want Urlacher back. Neither of the players who have started at the position over the past three years -- Urlacher and Nick Roach -- are under contract. (Roach signed last week with the Oakland Raiders.) There really isn't a viable starter on the roster, and it's never ideal to enter a draft with a desperate need for a starter at any position.

But in addition to providing continuity at middle linebacker, I also wonder if Urlacher could provide Trestman an essential service during his rookie season as coach. Assuming Urlacher bought in to Trestman's program and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's scheme, he could serve as a locker room salesman and messenger to help smooth the transition from the previous regime.

At a time of uncertainty, many Bears players would be looking to Urlacher -- who has long been the face of the franchise -- to set a tone and take the lead. If Urlacher enthusiastically embraces Trestman and Tucker, chances are better that the rest of the locker room would follow suit.

If Trestman wants Urlacher back, my guess is he thinks there is a good chance of buy-in. And Urlacher's interest in returning suggests he feels the same way. Here's what Trestman said when I asked him about Urlacher serving in the conduit role:

"There is no doubt that the No. 1 thing is he can help our football team on the field. Everything else certainly brings great value to our team. No doubt about it. I'm just hopeful it will be resolved. And it will be resolved. As a coaching staff, we've just got to trust the process."

That process, to be clear, is financial. The Bears have removed emotion from the equation and have acknowledged the on-field aspect. So now we wait.

On the extent of Devin Hester's focused role

March, 20, 2013
PHOENIX -- The Chicago Bears' new regime has been signaling for a while that it considers Devin Hester to be primarily a returner at this stage in his career. On Wednesday, coach Marc Trestman revealed how serious the team is about narrowing Hester's duties.

Speaking at the NFL owners meeting, Trestman said that Hester will spend most of his time during the Bears' offseason program with special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. Asked if Hester will even practice with receivers during organized team activities (OTAs), Trestman said: "I don't know yet. We're going to talk about that next week. Most of the time he will be with Joe, meeting with Joe and spending time with Joe."

Trestman also reiterated general manager Phil Emery's expectation that Hester will "compete" for the returner's job, although I think we all know that Hester's skills would have to decline significantly for him not to be the best returner on the Bears' roster.

I tossed Trestman's sentiments onto Twitter a few minutes ago and your collective and overwhelming response was this: "It's about time." Real or imagined, many of us have wondered if the Bears got too greedy after Hester revealed his elite open-field running skills as a returner.

It was worth finding out if he could extend it into a full-time receiving role, but his 49 receptions and two touchdowns since the start of the 2011 season isn't enough production to merit a splitting of duties -- and presumably a watered-down impact. That has been especially clear since the team traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery last year; Trestman spoke Wednesday as if he expected that pair to be his primary starters in 2013.

Hester didn't have a touchdown return last season but had three as recently as 2011. He will turn 31 in November, which is middle age for a receiver but probably not a multi-purpose threat. The Bears had reached the point in his career when it was time to make a choice, and it makes perfect sense to pick the part of his skill set that is Hall of Fame worthy.

Although he hasn't made a direct public comment about the situation that I'm aware of, it's fair to assume Hester is on board. As we noted earlier month, a post on Hester's Instagram account said he was "a bear 4 life."

More to come from the meetings in a bit.

Doubting the NFL will heed Matt Forte

March, 17, 2013
PHOENIX -- For the first time, the NFL's ongoing efforts to emphasize player safety have targeted offensive players. Owners are set to vote on two rule proposals this week that restrict potentially dangerous acts by offensive linemen and running backs. And in the latter case, at least, you can expect the running backs to fight back.

Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte is the first active running back that I'm aware of to take a strong stance against the applicable proposed rule, which would penalize backs 15 yards for lowering their heads and initiating "forcible contact" with the top/crown of the helmet. League officials have said they would instruct officials to call only the most obvious examples, but Sunday morning, Forte tweeted:
"The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I've ever heard of. In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It's a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles. U can't change the instinctive nature of running the football."

What Forte wrote makes a lot of rational sense. I look forward to hearing from other prominent running backs as well, including the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, but my informed guess is that their breath will be wasted.

I ran into a few team officials Sunday morning as they began gathering at the Biltmore hotel, and they expressed varying opinions about whether the rule will pass. My feeling on these issues hasn't changed. Whenever the NFL attaches player safety to a proposed rule change, as it did two years ago when it altered kickoffs, the rule usually passes in some form, even if it is tweaked a bit.

Player safety rule changes are as important to the outside perception of the league as they are to actually increasing player safety. Rejecting those efforts by dismissing a rule change would send a mixed message about the league's intent. I don't think the league wants to do that. More to come, I'm sure.