Commentary

The season of their discontent

Will a few Bears veterans let the business of football get in the way of winning?

Updated: October 19, 2011, 10:08 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Professional athletes almost always stick together when it comes to their teammates' contract disputes and trade demands. It's part of the code, what they do.

Even as they agree with Lance Briggs that it can be a distraction.

"I think it takes away from wanting to just go out on the field and play," Briggs admitted on Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Tuesday, of his public request for a trade last month after learning the Bears would not give him a raise with three years still remaining on his six-year contract.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireFor better or worse, Matt Forte's contract dispute has been a frequent topic of conversation in the Bears' locker room.

"Football careers are not like normal careers," he said. "It's very short. It can end on any given day. For guys like us, it literally is a league about 'What have you done for me lately?' And it's also about getting what you can, while you can."

However this season plays out as the Bears near the midway point, it will be remembered in large part for the clash between three key veterans and team management. Maybe they can even have team t-shirts made: Bears '11: Getting What You Can, While You Can.

In addition to Briggs, running back Matt Forte said he feels "unappreciated" as his request for an extension on his contract drags on. Forte will earn $600,000 in this, the last year of his rookie deal. If the Bears wait until after the season and put a franchise tag on him, Forte couldn't go anywhere for another year, but the team would have to pay him in the neighborhood of $8 million, which leaves Forte both stumped and still unappreciated.

Meanwhile, safety Chris Harris saw the Tuesday trade deadline come and go after requesting he be moved in the wake of being placed on the inactive list last weekend.

"I think we all can relate," said Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams. "The longer you stay in the league, you can kind of understand what a person is going through and you can show empathy and sympathy for that person, especially if they're doing everything they can possibly do."

The average working man naturally views all this as greed.

"No, not at all, especially when you, I hate to say it, but compare yourself to other guys at your position," Adams said. "If you're out-playing a guy who makes [more], that's in any profession. If you're a secretary and you get paid two dollars and another guy who you're doing more work than, is getting paid four dollars, it's like 'This dude is getting double what I make and I'm doing double what he does?' It's frustrating but that's the business side of the game we play."

Even the average Joe can see that Forte is not being paid his worth. Likewise, you can appreciate what he brings to the Bears as more than 50 percent of their offense.

And maybe Briggs' and Harris' teammates really do support Briggs and Harris, even as it pulls at the team concept.

But "empathy and sympathy?"

If the Bears somehow rally and make the playoffs, it will likely make sense. But if they don't? Then everyone is going to wonder just how much all of this affected them.

"I think stuff like that is always in the back of your mind but I don't think you can let it be a distraction, especially if it's going to affect your play," Adams said. "But I think you can just use it as motivation and try to block it out once the game starts because it's a tough deal. No matter how you look at it, it's tough."

And Briggs suggested it will only get tougher.

"I think there's a big transition going on right now in Chicago, and the players and the management are not seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of different issues and a lot of different player situations," he said on Comcast. "I don't know where it's going to go and how it's going to pan out. . . .

"Especially for a guy like Matt Forte, who is well-deserved of a new deal, I'd like to see that happen for him and for everybody. But it's not going to happen for everyone."

In other words, Briggs expects other players to have similar issues and in borderline clubhouse lawyer mode, seems to be warning his teammates that they should hunker down.

But Harris insists it's not a distraction.

"No, not at all," he said. "It's a business, they know it' a business. I don't think anybody gets distracted. They're grown-up professionals who are worried about doing their jobs."

This is obviously not the first team with which this has happened. And it's not exactly a revelation that players and management are on opposing sides. "There's always a disconnect," Adams said. "That's not anything new. And it's not just here, it's league-wide.

But during the season anyway, it's generally preferable to keep it out of the locker room and off the playing field as much as possible.

"No question, we all have each other's backs," said Roberto Garza. "It's all about the team and it's all about the guys who make us who we are and [Briggs, Forte and Harris are] a big part of that.

"We have to realize it's part of the business and they're doing what they think is best. I'm sure it will get done at some point."

In the meantime, get those t-shirts ready.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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