Bears linebacker Lance Briggs is due a base salary of $3.65 million this season.
There is no guaranteed money remaining in the six-year deal Briggs signed in 2008, and the Bears have already set a precedent for re-working the contract of an aging but valuable linebacker long before it was due to expire.
The facts: Briggs received $13 million guaranteed in three annual installments after signing his contract, in addition to his base salaries. In 2011, he is due a base salary of $3.65 million and nothing more. His 2012 salary is $3.75 million before jumping to $6.25 million in 2013.
Just before the starting of training camp in 2008, the Bears added one year to linebacker Brian Urlacher's contract in an agreement that added up to $18 million to his deal. The Bears might consider Urlacher's deal a one-time face-of-the-franchise agreement, as Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune notes, but Briggs is probably the Bears' best linebacker at the moment.
Is that enough to justify giving a soon-to-be 31-year old linebacker a contract adjustment three years before he would be eligible for free agency? I highly doubt the Bears think so. Briggs apparently has decided to play out the season with the Bears but demand a trade this winter if he hasn't received a deal by then. For that reason, it wouldn't be at all surprising if the Bears table the issue until the offseason.
Briggs has missed the Bears' past two preseason games because of a knee injury, but he told McClure that his game absence hasn't been related to his contract situation. It would be difficult to imagine a veteran staging a holdout with so many years remaining on a freely-negotiated contract.
So where does this leave us? Briggs has a measure of leverage because the Bears have failed to compile much depth behind him. General manager Jerry Angelo recently noted "this year is probably the least amount of depth that we've had." If the Bears had an heir apparent, they would have an easier time taking a hard-line stance.
I understand where Briggs would be upset to see younger linebackers, most notably A.J. Hawk of the Green Bay Packers, receiving more lucrative contracts than he ever imagined he could get. Briggs is a six-time Pro Bowl linebacker who has been named to the Associated Press All-Pro team three times.
But quite simply, he signed the deal that left him in this position. He hasn't outperformed his contract, which is the usual argument for renegotiation. He signed the deal at the height of his market value. I don't want to say he got a bad contract, but it wasn't a great deal if he wanted six years of highly lucrative pay.
In return for being paid more than $22 million in its first three seasons, Briggs had to accept about $13 million over the final three. Maybe he intended all along to renegotiate at this point, but I doubt the Bears planned to. It's possible the Bears will do something Urlacher-like to soothe Briggs' feelings, but if he's looking for a new market-level contract with three years remaining on his current deal, he might be disappointed.