We're expecting a pretty fluid weekend here in the NFC North, so let's dispense with a soon-to-be-irrelevant BBAO post and move straight to the news. First up: Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs' formal request to be traded, as first reported by Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
As you know, Briggs approached the Bears this summer about renegotiating his contract, which has three years remaining on it. The Bears apparently (and unsurprisingly) have rejected his request, prompting Briggs to escalate the situation. According to NFL rules, players can be traded at any point between now and Week 6 of the regular season, but it's hard to imagine the Bears complying given their lack of depth at the position.
To put it bluntly, Briggs has no leverage other than the absence of an in-house replacement. Based on typical NFL protocol, the Bears are justified in asking Briggs to honor the fourth year of a six-year deal. Let's be clear. Briggs is halfway through the contract but has already earned about two-thirds of its total value. All along, Briggs knew that the tradeoff for a $23 million payday in the first three years would be stepping back to $13 million over the final three years.
ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt put Briggs' strategy in plain language Friday morning via Twitter:
Lance Briggs/Drew Rosenhaus gameplan: Ask for new contract; when denied ask for trade; when denied cause distraction. Rinse and repeat.
Yes, this is not the first mid-deal distraction Rosenhaus has presided over. (The guy literally wrote a book called "Next Question" after his infamous Terrell Owens news conference.) The truth is Briggs and Rosenhaus made a calculated and risky decision when they agreed to their original deal in 2008. They were betting Briggs' play would justify a new deal at this juncture. Otherwise, why would they agree to relatively modest salaries of $3.65 million this season and $3.75 million in 2012?
That expectation, however, was almost impossible to achieve. Briggs was already an All-Pro linebacker in 2008. He signed the deal at the height of his market value. Was it realistic for him to be a better player in 2011 than he was in 2008? The only way to justify a new contract is to argue you have outperformed your current one.
It's not the same thing to say that Briggs is undervalued with a $3.65 million salary, because that figure was part of the total package he originally agreed to. Say you let your kids watch five hours of television a week. By Tuesday, they've used up four of the five hour-allowance. Do you add more to that total to stop the inevitable whining about one more hour over the next five days?
I think that's a fair analogy, and it's clear the Bears plan to hold their parenting ground. Briggs' market value was $6 million per year in 2008. He wants $6 million this season, according to McClure, but has conveniently forgotten that he earned about $7.5 million per year in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The question now is how difficult Briggs wants to make it on the Bears. He told McClure that the situation is "not going to take away from what I do on the field," and normally I would say that a contract dispute wouldn't distract a veteran team like the Bears. But Briggs isn't just a player. He is one of their captains and a foundation of their veteran structure. The Bears will have to gauge if they can squeeze a productive year out of him before taking a harder look at this in the offseason. I'm sure that's their preference.