Bears agree to deal with Chris Spencer
The addition of Spencer signifies the end of Olin Kreutz's 13-year career with the Bears.
"At this point of my career it's a good fit for me," Spencer told ESPNChicago.com on Sunday. "Just meeting with (Bears assistant general manager) Tim (Ruskell) and just meeting with the Bears and playing against them the last four or five years, I like (what) they stand for. They have a really good defense, a really good offense, and a star -- Jay Cutler -- back there. It's a good mix of guys. So I'm excited to come in and get back to football."
While Spencer's acquisition sparked enthusiasm about a potential upgrade at center, Bears coach Lovie Smith also announced the official end of Kreutz's tenure. Despite receiving widespread support from the coaching staff and teammates, Kreutz ultimately declined the team's final contract offer: a one-year deal worth approximately $4 million.
A source with knowledge of the negotiations explained the Bears made their initial contract offer on Thursday at $3 million, before Kreutz's side countered, causing the club to raise their proposal to approximately $4 million. At the end of the negotiations, Kreutz's side felt as if they'd been strung along by the Bears.
"As excited as I am about (Spencer and other) guys coming in -- Olin Kreutz -- we weren't able to come to an agreement with him," Bears coach Lovie Smith said after Sunday's practice. "He's been a great Chicago Bear for us. But every year, of course, it's a different year, a different team."
ESPNChicago.com reported Saturday that Kreutz had began telling teammates he was unlikely to return after contract negotiations broke down between the former Pro Bowler and the Bears.
Although Kreutz backed off his initial request for a multiyear contract, and was willing to take a one-year deal, the sides couldn't reach an agreement. A source said Kreutz's side felt that the Bears never seriously engaged in negotiations, making essentially a take-it-or-leave-it offer, which frustrated the six-time Pro Bowl center.
Because of the quick-strike nature of this unprecedented free-agency period, perhaps the Bears lacked the time to fully engage in the negotiations.
"We did the best we could do given that we had a lot to do and felt that we gave him a fair offer. I told (Kreutz) if he thought long and hard on it, and I know he did ... I was hoping that he may change his mind," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "It's not about any one player, it's about the team. I told Olin. I told his agent (that) if we can't get this done in a certain timeframe, then we need to move on because it is about the team. We can't lose other options. We talked to a potential player yesterday in the morning. He was very interested. We waited to get back with him in the afternoon (and) two more teams are now in it, and the price has already gone up. It's very, very difficult. It was a line we had to walk."
Spencer became one of the players the Bears didn't want to take a chance on losing because of the time taken up by negotiations with Kreutz.
Spencer said he's well-aware that he's set to replace one of the team's most respected players.
"I've been watching Olin since I've been in the league," Spencer said. "I've tried to pick up some things from him and learn things from him over the years. It's unfortunate that he used to play center for the Bears, but I respect the hell out of Olin. I wish him the best the rest of his career.
"But I'm here to play football, help this team and be me. Everybody is going to say you're coming in replacing Olin, but all I can do is come and play my football at the highest level I can. I'm really excited to learn from the guys around there who have been there. I'm excited."
Even with Saturday's initial news, reaction from Kreutz's former teammates after Sunday's practice remained relatively somber.
Bears guard Roberto Garza said he didn't know Spencer, and seemed reluctant to discuss the potential of the new center possibly lining next to him this season in Kreutz's place.
"It's hard to put into words (what Kreutz means to the team)," Garza. "He stands for what a Chicago Bear is: tough, hard-nosed football player. He made his teammates better. He will be missed. He's a veteran leader that guys look up to and who helped me along in my career."
Ruskell selected Spencer out of Ole Miss in the first round of the 2005 draft, and the center started 70 games in six seasons with the Seahawks, playing multiple positions.
Out of respect for Kreutz, Smith declined to openly compare he and Spencer.
"Spencer is a good football player. I can't compare him with Olin. Olin is not an option for us right now," Smith said. "It didn't work out. This is a good option for us. We're always trying to improve our ballclub. That's a position (in which) we needed a player, and we feel good about him."
Once reports surfaced that Kreutz was on the way out, players privately questioned how the organization could part with someone with 13 years of service and six Pro Bowls.
Bears safety Chris Harris took to Twitter to voice his frustration, tweeting: "All I can say is wow when it comes to Olin Kreutz &&&&REALLY?!?!??!?! Olin Kreutz departure won't sit well in the locker room for a few days #realtalk."
Angelo, meanwhile, explained that Kreutz "embodies what a football player is," and wished the center and his family well, before seemingly putting into perspective the business side of football.
"Come on? This isn't a wake," Angelo said. "We're sad, but nobody died. We wish him the best. He had a great career. Long after I'm forgotten, he's going to be long remembered as well he should be."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
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