NFC North: Alec Ogletree

On Friday, I passed along a post from NFC West colleague Mike Sando, who noted some backroom facts from the St. Louis Rams' draft as observed by Sports Illustrated's Peter King. The upshot: The Rams had two fallback players in mind if Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree wasn't available at No. 30 overall.

One was UCLA defensive end Datone Jones, whom the Green Bay Packers drafted at No. 26. The other was Kentucky guard Larry Warford, whom the Detroit Lions drafted the next day at No. 65 overall.

On the surface, it appeared the Lions drafted a player in the third round that at least one NFL team had considered selecting in the first. So it's important to note King's follow-up in his Monday Morning Quarterback column.

In essence, King wrote, the Rams wouldn't have selected Warford at No. 30 but instead would have sought to trade out of the first -- probably with the Minnesota Vikings -- and target him at the bottom of the second round. (The Vikings owned the No. 52 overall pick.)

What does this tell us? The Lions drafted a player at the top of the third round who another team wasn't opposed to drafting in the bottom third of the second round. That isn't entirely stunning, given the value groupings many teams use to evaluate players. The Rams' interest reassures anyone who thought Warford was a reach, although I haven't heard that from anyone, and re-establishes the thought that he is good enough to challenge for a starting job right away.
We've set a record this spring with 568 blog posts about the middle linebacker position, given the Chicago Bears' and Minnesota Vikings' need at the position -- and the presence of Manti Te'o as one of the best available at that position.

So it's not surprising that with a few hours to go before the start of the 2013 draft, we're still wondering whether Te'o will end up with the Bears, the Vikings or if he will be the subject of a dramatic intradivision competition.

ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both think the Bears will draft Te'o at No. 20 overall, even if the presumably more talented Alec Ogletree is available. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Vikings are prepared to trade up and over the Bears to ensure they can get Te'o for themselves.

The Vikings, with two first-round draft picks and a total of 11 choices in this draft, certainly have the firepower to do that. But it's fair at least to wonder if the Bears' interest in Te'o is as intense as today's indications.

Do the Bears really want Te'o? Do they simply want the Vikings (or another team with presumed genuine interest) to think that? Do the people representing Te'o want to create a frenzy that could cause him to be drafted higher, with a bigger salary, than he otherwise would be?

The truth, and I know that's what you want, is that no one can know for sure. I remain convinced that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has interest in Te'o, but I'm not sure it's intense enough to spur him to trade up. The Bears, who have been known for surprises under general manager Phil Emery, have been difficult to project since they signed veteran free agent D.J. Williams.

In their final mock drafts of the 2013 draft season, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Insider and Todd McShay Insider agree on their projected first-round picks for 75 percent of the NFC North. The details:

5. Detroit Lions
Kiper: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
McShay: Ansah
Seifert comment: In both cases, Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher and Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson are off the board. McShay has Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel slipping out of the top 10. Both think the Lions would pass on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. Ansah seems to be the type of "Dave Kingman" prospect that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew suggested last week he might not consider, but who knows if he was being truthful.

20. Chicago Bears
Kiper: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
McShay: Te'o
Seifert comment: Both think the Bears would take Te'o over Georgia's Alec Ogletree. There is no doubt that Ogletree's off-field indiscretions recently are a concern, but there is there is widespread agreement that he is better player than Te'o. If the Bears pass on Ogletree, the guess is they'll take another position rather than draft Te'o.

23/25. Minnesota Vikings
Kiper (23): USC receiver Robert Woods
McShay (23): North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Kiper (25): Georgia's Ogletree
McShay (25): Ogletree
Seifert comment: I didn't pick a receiver for the Vikings in this week's #bloggermock, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they waited until later in the draft to add at that position. Three of their four starting defensive linemen are entering the final year of their contracts. If Ogletree is available at this point, especially with Te'o off the board, the Vikings would have a hard time passing him up.

26. Green Bay Packers
Kiper: UCLA defensive end Datone Jones
McShay: Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh
Seifert comment: The general consensus is the Packers will choose a lineman if they stay in this spot, with defense being a higher priority if all things equal. Unless they take a safety, of course. Or trade out.
So what happens if three left tackles are among the first four picks of the 2013 draft? Our friends at Scouts Inc. addressed that scenario at the top of their annual seven-round -- yes, you read that right -- mock draft Insider.

The short explanation is that the Detroit Lions would be left with a premier pass-rusher, which many of you prefer over a left tackle anyway. You need an Insider subscription to see the entire draft, but I'll sneak you the first and second rounds as it pertains to the NFC North:

Detroit Lions
Round 1: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Round 2: Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Terron Armstead
Seifert comment: Ansah is an awfully nice consolation and would be scary playing next to Nick Fairley/Ndamukong Suh. Armstead has the physical attributes to play left tackle.

Chicago Bears
Round 1: Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree
Round 2: Kentucky guard Larry Warford
Seifert comment: Ogletree would have an impossible task in living up to expectations set by Brian Urlacher, but he comes from the same kind of mold -- an athletic former safety. Warford would give the Bears another starting option at an otherwise thin position.

Minnesota Vikings
Round 1: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Round 1: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
Round 2: Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay
Seifert comment: In this scenario, the Vikings wait until the third round to address their receiver position. But it would be hard to argue with a defensive tackle, a middle linebacker and a cornerback among the first three picks.

Green Bay Packers
Round 1: Florida safety Matt Elam
Round 2: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball
Seifert comment: Elam would represent an attempt to boost playmaking in the back end, while Ball could be the kind of workhorse the Packers haven't had in a long time.

2013 #bloggermock: NFC North

April, 23, 2013
Our 2013 #bloggermock took an early twist and left me only partially satisfied as the protector of NFC North interests. Of note: Not a single quarterback was drafted in the first round, something that hasn't happened in the real draft since 1996. We also passed up the running back position in the first round, which that hasn't happened since the common draft began in 1967.

Below are the players I would up picking for the NFC North and my reasoning in each instance.

5. Detroit Lions
My pick: Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson
Final decision: Between Johnson, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Process and reasoning: The Lions' true intentions are tough to read at left tackle. When they drafted Riley Reiff at No. 23 overall last year, we all assumed he was the heir apparent at the position. Since the retirement of incumbent Jeff Backus, however, the Lions have emphasized Reiff's versatility and suggested he could play right guard or right tackle. To me, versatility is irrelevant if you have a true long-term answer at left tackle.

It's possible the Lions are deliberately clouding Reiff's future to hide their draft intentions. In the end, I thought the No. 5 pick was a great place to find a blue-chip left tackle and further strengthen the Lions' line by allowing Reiff to start at right guard or right tackle.

Johnson might be the third-best left tackle in the draft, but draft analysts have suggested that's a matter of experience more than aptitude. I had a brief pre-draft trade discussion with AFC East blogger James Walker, who wanted to use the Miami Dolphins' No. 12 overall pick to move up and draft a left tackle. But there was no way Johnson would be available at No. 12, so I needed much more than what Walker was offering (a second-round pick) to pass up getting him.

I know I've pushed the Lions to draft a cornerback like Milliner for years, but finding a left tackle can be even more difficult. I was tempted by Ansah, but decided to gamble that some decent defensive ends would make it to the top of the second round. In this mock, three of Mel Kiper's top five defensive ends would be available after the first: UCLA's Datone Jones, Auburn's Corey Lemonier and Florida State's Tank Carradine.

20. Chicago Bears
My pick: Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree
Final decision: There wasn't much debate.
Process and reasoning: I did not expect Ogletree to be available at No. 20 and knew it would be difficult for the Bears to move up. But once he made it past the New Orleans Saints at No. 15, I thought I had a chance. The New York Giants have been speculated as a possible landing spot, but the Giants haven't selected a linebacker in the first round since 1984 (Carl Banks).

I'm still not sure Ogletree will be available at No. 20 in the real draft Thursday night, but in this case -- with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert already off the board -- I couldn't justify passing him up as a long-term replacement for Brian Urlacher.

23 and 25. Minnesota Vikings
My picks: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden
Final decision: Between Williams, Hayden, Cal receiver Keenan Allen, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
Process and reasoning: I really do think that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has genuine interest in Te'o and wants to draft him. In looking back on this mock, I just got too greedy and sneaky for my own good.

I had enough ammunition to move up, but for whom? Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson went way too high (No. 8 to the Buffalo Bills), and West Virginia's Tavon Austin was gone at No. 13. Is Austin worth even an extra second-round pick to the Vikings? I couldn't do it.

Ogletree plays a position of need, but I felt sketchy about giving up extra draft choices for a player with multiple off-field flags in the past year.

So my plan was to grab two really good non-middle linebackers and then cross my fingers that someone, perhaps even Te'o, would be available in the second round, where Spielman could work some trade magic and grab one. It almost worked. Te'o made it to No. 32, where the Baltimore Ravens drafted him just after learning that Rolando McClain had been arrested once again.

Media analysis is split on whether Te'o is significantly better than the next tier of middle linebackers, and most people think the Vikings are most interested in him. So if the Vikings passed, I thought there was a chance he would tumble. In the end, that's why I passed him over even though I'm not sure Spielman will.

As for receiver, I had my eyes on Tennessee's Justin Hunter, but he went one slot ahead at No. 22. So I went with Williams, who could be a long-term replacement for Kevin Williams, and Hayden. I had a small chance to trade down, but the best offer I got to move from No. 25 to the top of the second round at No. 35 was an additional fifth-round pick. Not good enough. The cornerback class drops off after the first round, and Washington's Desmond Trufant was already off the board. In this scenario, the Vikings would be in position to maneuver in the second round for a receiver. Among those who are left is Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins.

26. Green Bay Packers
My pick: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins
Final decision: Between Jenkins, Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh, Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson
Process and reasoning: The honest truth of the matter is that I was just guessing here. Congratulations to the Packers. No one ever knows for sure who a team is going to draft, but this year, no one really has anything more than a guess on the Packers. They appear to be interested in improving their defensive line, at least based on their limited activity in free agency, and Jenkins seemed the best of what was still remaining on the board. I don't mind saying he was even more of a guess than usual.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What's the ideal first-round scenario for each team?

Chicago Bears: There are a number of hopeful scenarios for the Bears, but we've got to keep it reasonable. The Bears would no doubt be thrilled if one of the draft's top guards, Alabama's Chance Warmack or North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, fell to them at No. 20. That doesn't seem likely, however, based on the current thinking of media analysts. Others might like to see Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker available, but the Bears aren't desperate at the tackle position. The most ideal but reasonable scenario is Georgia middle linebacker Alec Ogletree falling to No. 20 because of off-field issues. Ogletree could be an immediate and long-term replacement for the departed Brian Urlacher, allowing the Bears to use D.J. Williams perhaps at the strong-side position.

Detroit Lions: We've discussed a scenario in which the draft's top two left tackles (Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher), its top cornerback (Alabama's Dee Milliner) and arguably its most intriguing defensive end (BYU's Ezekiel Ansah) are all off the board at No. 5. So if the draft gods are looking kindly upon the Lions, they'll give them a choice of two of those players. There's no telling whom the Lions would pick, but Milliner or either of the left tackles would give them a good shot at having a really good anchor player for the next decade.

Green Bay Packers: I don't know how likely it is, but the Packers would no doubt love to see one of the draft's top defensive tackles make his way to their spot at No. 26 overall. Could that be Missouri's Sheldon Richardson? North Carolina's Sylvester Williams? Both players are natural interior disruptors, although Richardson might be on the smaller side for a 3-4 defense and could fit best as a 4-3 under tackle. There is little doubt that the Packers want to enhance their defensive line in this draft.

Minnesota Vikings: There are plenty of options for a team with two first-round picks, including trading up to get a coveted player or trading back to pile up second-round options. But here's an ideal scenario if the Vikings stay put: They draft a receiver with one pick, perhaps Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson or Cal's Keenan Allen, and a cornerback with the other. Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden has gotten a lot of publicity lately, but his value in the first round remains publicly uncertain. The Vikings have need at defensive tackle and middle linebacker as well, but those positions might be more heavily stocked later in the draft.

Sport Science: Alec Ogletree

April, 15, 2013
We all have our doubts on whether Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree will be available when the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings draft at No. 20 and No. 23/25 overall, respectively. This Sport Science video helps explain why.

Ogletree puts up acceleration numbers that compare him with Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Lamar Woodley and produces a force of impact on par with the Denver Broncos' Von Miller. Overall, Sport Science puts Ogletree on par with Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the No. 11 overall pick of the 2012 draft and last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Earlier this week, I posed a number of NFC North-centric draft scenarios to Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench. Friday, I got the chance to do the same with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

I'm going to spread McShay's answers over a few posts, but we'll start with his take on the middle linebacker situation after Georgia's Alec Ogletree. If Ogletree is drafted before the Chicago Bears' No. 20 overall pick, which is quite possible given his skill set, would any of the remaining middle/inside linebackers be worthy of a first-round draft pick? And who would be worth looking at later in the draft?

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsAfter Alec Ogletree "it's Teo and that's it," says Todd McShay of the middle linebackers worthy of a first-round pick.
The list of possibilities includes Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, LSU's Kevin Minter, North Carolina's Kevin Reddick, Oregon's Kiko Alonso and Kansas State's Arthur Brown. McShay was unequivocal in his answer.

"I think it's Te'o and that's it [in the first round]," he said. "I know specifically at least one other team that has Minter and Te'o neck-in-neck and are debating the two. But that's a 3-4 team, not a 4-3 team, and at least in my opinion Te'o fits better as a 4-3. …

"For 4-3 teams, I think Te'o would have the advantage, but Minter is not that far behind in some team's minds. After that, there is a bigger dropoff and you get into the third round before get into Kiko Alonso from Oregon or Kevin Reddick from UNC."

Minter, according to McShay, is "maybe on the same part athletically and quickness-wise with Te'o." But Te'o "diagnoses things a lot quicker when you watch the tape." In the end, Te'o has a better chance of being a three-down linebacker in the NFL than Minter does, McShay said, and that is what you would want if you're drafting an inside linebacker in the first round.

I asked McShay specifically about Brown, who many of you suggested would be a good fit for the Bears and Vikings given their schemes. McShay projects Brown as a middle- second-round value for teams who play the Tampa-2 scheme.

"He fits the Tampa 2," McShay said. "But you've got to cover him up. You have to cover up Arthur Brown. He is a speedser that can go sideline to sideline and you get guys out on him and he gets in trouble fast."

We've long since set an NFL blog network record for attention spent to middle linebackers in this run-up to the draft, and I'm sorry, but I'm not expecting it to end today. Hang on if you can.

Tuesday's SportsNation chat brought a question that I ultimately posed to Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench in the video accompanying this post. What should the Detroit Lions do, asked Jay of Chicago, if all four of the most publicly-discussed possibilities for their No. 5 overall pick are off the board?

That list includes left tackles Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan), Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. My first-blush answer in the chat was Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan. In the video, Muench has a different -- and intriguing -- suggestion.

Steve and I discussed another scenario later in the video: Which middle linebacker should the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings draft, if any, should Georgia's Alec Ogletree go before the Bears' No. 20 overall pick? I also pressed Steve on whether the Green Bay Packers should draft a running back in the first round.

It's worth comparing that discussion with the latest mock draft of ESPN analyst Todd McShay Insider, who found a way to get Fisher to the Lions and Ogletree to the Vikings. (He still has the Bears drafting Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. The Packers get Syracuse guard Justin Pugh in this version of the mock.)

Note: I'm aware I referred to LSU linebacker "Kevin Minter" as "Alex Minter." Such is the nature of one-take videos.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

A Minnesota state senator plans to introduce a bill next week to delay construction of the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium until revenue streams for paying the public's annual share are secured. Many of you panicked when I tossed that news out on Twitter late Thursday, but if you breeze through the Twitter timeline of the state senator (Sean Nienow), you see that even he agrees that the stadium is a "done deal" and won't be permanently derailed as a result of the bill or financing problems.

The intention, according to Nienow, is to force legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton to address the shortfall of and problems with the designated revenue streams in the bill. Projections initially called for $35 million in annual revenue from electronic pull-tab machines, but issues with distribution and use has dropped that projection to $1.7 million for 2013. Without another solution, the state might have to dip into its general fund to uphold its share of the financial obligations.

So it's not time to rekindle concerns about the franchise moving to Los Angeles. But it is time for the appropriate officials to figure out where the money is going to come from, and it's not outrageous to straighten out any mistakes before large chunks of money start getting spent on construction.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Vikings had two of the top inside linebackers in this draft at their "Top 30" event earlier this week, according to Tom Pelissero of Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Georgia's Alec Ogletree were both in attendance.
  • The Detroit News compiled a list of the career highlights of Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson, who announced his retirement Thursday.
  • From the Detroit Free Press: The five players who have attempted an extra point over the last 30 years for the Lions.
  • Here are five of Hanson's most remarkable performances from Justin Rogers of
  • The Lions have scheduled a visit with fast-rising pass-rusher Dion Jordan of Oregon, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
  • The Green Bay Packers' preseason schedule includes a rematch against the Seattle Seahawks, whose "Fail Mary" play last season secured a victory over the Packers on "Monday Night Football." Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
  • The Packers probably want to play all four preseason games on the same day of the week, according to Jason Wilde of
  • The Packers have appeared on national preseason television at least once in 20 of the past 21 seasons, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Chicago Bears guaranteed about a third of free agent guard Matt Slauson's $815,000 contract for 2013, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Jeff Dickerson of "There might be motivation for the Bears to take the preseason a bit more seriously after the coaching staff underwent almost an entire makeover in the offseason. The offense, led by head coach Marc Trestman, is brand new. The defense, led by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, is expected to retain some of the basic principles of the old scheme, but will no doubt feature its share of new wrinkles."
We are now close enough to the 2013 draft that ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has gone two rounds deep in his latest mock Insider. Let's take a look from an NFC North perspective:

5. Detroit Lions
Kiper Round 1: Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner
Kiper Round 2: Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner
Seifert comment: Kiper chose Milliner over Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher. If the Lions do that, we'll know they're confident in Riley Reiff as their left tackle of the future. Werner would help mitigate the loss of defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

20. Chicago Bears
Kiper Round 1: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
Kiper Round 2: Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams
Seifert comment: Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree was still on the board when Kiper sent Te'o to the Bears. I'm not sure on that one, but he is the expert. I do agree the Bears could still address this position in the first round even after signing free agent D.J. Williams.

23./25 Minnesota Vikings
Kiper Round 1: Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson
Kiper Round 1: LSU linebacker Kevin Minter
Kiper Round 2: Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short
Seifert comment: Minter would be a Week 1 starter in this scenario, while Patterson would get plenty of early opportunities to develop into a starting outside receiver. Short would help the Vikings' need to start replenishing a defensive line that includes three starters over 30 years old.

26. Green Bay Packers
Kiper Round 1: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy
Kiper Round 2: Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox
Seifert comment: The intrigue continues on whether the Packers would use a first-round pick on a running back. Lacy has been held back in preseason workouts by a hamstring injury.

As we continue our Draft Minute video marathon, let's look at Georgia inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, a player who could be coveted by either the Chicago Bears at No. 20 overall or the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23 or No. 25. In the video, ESPN analyst Todd McShay says Ogletree is the "exception to the rule" about players with off-field issues and is "the most explosive player in this draft on the defensive side." McShay also suggests Ogletree "might be pound for pound the best athlete in this draft."

New urgency: Draft's top five MLBs

March, 20, 2013
HIGH ABOVE THE UPPER MIDWEST -- Earlier this month, we took a sneak peek at Mel Kiper's top five inside/middle linebackers in the 2013 draft. On the occasion of the Chicago Bears' decision to move on without Brian Urlacher, and with the Minnesota Vikings also in search of a new starter at the position, I figured I would revisit Kiper's ranking for those who didn't think it would be as relevant as it has become:
  1. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o
  2. Georgia's Alec Ogletree
  3. LSU's Kevin Minter
  4. Florida's Jonathan Bostic
  5. North Carolina's Kevin Reddick

(Insider subscribers can see the full Kiper analysis here. Insider)

On Twitter, many of you are asking about Kansas State's Arthur Brown. Obviously, Kiper doesn't rank him among his top five. Scouts Inc. rates him in its top 10 Insider inside/middle linebackers and projects him as a second-round draft pick.

We discussed Te'o at the scouting combine, noting his smooth performance in a media setting but a disappointing workout. I left the combine under the assumption that Ogletree is the best player at this position in the draft, but his value has been affected by several off-field incidents in the past year, most recently a drunken-driving arrest.
UrlacherRob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsThe Chicago Bears and Brian Urlacher failed to reach an agreement on a new contract.

PHOENIX -- The Chicago Bears' chairman wanted Brian Urlacher back in 2013. So did the Bears' coaching staff. So why did the team announce Wednesday evening that it was unable to reach a contract agreement with Urlacher, presumably ending his 13-year tenure with the team?

Let's go back to the place we started this conversation in January. If there were ever a time to make a clean break from a franchise player, it's during the kind of transition the Bears are experiencing. The arrival of new coach Marc Trestman, and the breakup of a defensive scheme that extended back almost a decade, provided a logical and relatively controversy-free departure point for an icon in the twilight of his career.

The way I see it, if you're going to have a transition year, you might as well pile on as many of the changes as you can for the foreseeable future. A "transition year" doesn't necessarily have to be a "rebuilding year," but the Bears were already going to be dealing with change in 2013. The faster you deal with it, the quicker you can move forward.

If anything, I've been surprised at how far the Bears took this process. I envisioned them emerging from their pre-combine organizational meetings and informing Urlacher they would be moving on. Clearly, however, Trestman and his staff got a look at the Bears' depth -- or lack thereof -- and realized there could be some short-term pain associated with Urlacher's departure. Earlier Wednesday, I wondered if Trestman wanted Urlacher back to serve as a quasi-mediator between the new coaching staff and the locker room upon which he held a solid grip.

Coaches, of course, are trained to value today and tomorrow -- not next year and beyond. It's the job of the Bears' front office, and especially general manger Phil Emery, to consider the bigger picture. And it's clear, no matter what might be said publicly, that the Bears wanted to jump-start the process of rebuilding a linebacker corps that has remained largely intact for years.

How do you navigate the complex issue of nudging out a franchise icon who still wants to play, while also juggling the short-term desires of the coaching staff and the wishes -- detached or otherwise -- of ownership? You make an offer that you're pretty sure will be refused.

I'm not a mind-reader. I can't tell you for sure that Emery followed that a strategy that has been used many other times in NFL history. But the outside clues sure do suggest it. Urlacher, in fact, told Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune that he received a take-it-or-leave-it one-year contract offer worth a maximum of $2 million.

You and I might agree that's a reasonable value for a middle linebacker with a balky knee and 13 NFL seasons of wear on his body. But it represented about a 75 percent pay cut from Urlacher's 2012 compensation, a drop that few Hall of Fame players would agree to. Urlacher told the Tribune it was "a slap in the face." For context, consider that the Baltimore Ravens paid now-retired middle linebacker Ray Lewis $4.95 million to play his 17th and final season in 2012.

And before you bring it up, let's not blame the Bears' tight salary-cap situation for this decision. Urlacher's cap figure wouldn't have been any more than $2 million in 2013 under that offer. If they wanted, the Bears could have used any number of salary cap tricks to maintain that figure while offering Urlacher more cash. They didn't. They wanted him back only on the terms of a clearance sale -- if at all.

Let's be clear: There will be short-term pain that will follow this decision. The Bears must replace not only Urlacher but also strong-side linebacker Nick Roach, who signed with the Oakland Raiders, at the same time.

In a best-case scenario, the Bears will open the season with one of the draft's top middle linebackers -- perhaps Georgia's Alec Ogletree or even Notre Dame's Manti Te'o -- in the starting lineup. It might take several offseasons to reassemble a credible group of starting linebackers.

In the end, the Bears had ignored this pending transition long enough. Ideally, they would have had an heir on the roster already to take Urlacher's job. Now, they have an urgency that no NFL team prefers. But if not now, when? The urgency would only increase.
By the end of this offseason, it's quite possible that we'll set an NFC North blog record for discussions about inside linebackers. The Chicago Bears need a long-term replacement for Brian Urlacher, the Minnesota Vikings' starter (Jasper Brinkley) is a pending free agent, the Green Bay Packers might be looking for help at inside linebacker, and the draft's most recognizable name is Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

To that end, it's worth noting where the inside linebacker class stands, at least in the eyes of ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Kiper Jr. updated his list of the five best players Insider at each position this week, while McShay released his third mock draft.

McShay had two inside linebackers in his mock: Georgia's Alec Ogletree to the New Orleans Saints at No. 15 and Te'o to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 32. Kiper's top five, on the other hand, looks this way:
  1. Te'o
  2. Ogletree
  3. LSU's Kevin Minter
  4. Florida's Jonathan Bostic
  5. North Carolina's Kevin Reddick

Ogletree is considered the most talented inside linebacker in the draft, but has experienced two significant off-field issues in the past year, a drug suspension and a drunken-driving arrest. Obviously, Kiper Jr. thinks those issues will hurt him more than McShay does. Minter didn't impress teams at the NFL scouting combine with his time of 4.81 in the 40-yard dash at 246 pounds.

It makes you wonder if one of our teams would have a chance to draft a top-five inside linebacker in the bottom half of the second round. These assessments will change once again now that pro days have begun, but that's where things stand at the moment.