Olin Kreutz leaning toward retirement
"I feel pretty close (to retiring)," Kreutz told ESPNChicago.com by phone Sunday night. "I don't know if I could go somewhere and play for someone else. It has always been about the Bears, I've always chosen them and I just don't know if I could do it for someone else."
The Bears gave Kreutz and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, an ultimatum Saturday on a one-year, $4 million contract, which was $2 million less than he was paid last year. Kreutz was willing to compromise on the length of the deal and the two sides were about $800,000 apart on the dollar amount.
The team's first offer on Thursday was close to $3 million.
"I thought they were going to make a pretty good offer off the bat so I could get to camp and get going," Kreutz said. "When they made a decent offer, it was 'Take it or leave it.' It just seemed to me they wanted to move in a different direction."
The Bears did indeed move quickly, signing former Seattle center Chris Spencer. And now Kreutz said it may just signal the end of his 13-year career.
"I'd like to take a few days to take the emotions out of it," he said, "but I knew after the 12th or 13th year that once the Bears were over, I'd be pretty much done."
Bartelstein claims the team did not negotiate in good faith while indicating general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith were not on the same page.
"We negotiated in good faith," Angelo said. "We wanted Olin back. They saw it differently, and I have to respect that and obviously, they have to respect our position. It's not about one person. There are a lot of moving parts."
Clearly, Angelo is right about seeing things differently.
Bartelstein said the Bears never attempted to extend Kreutz's contract last season and did not present a proposal until Thursday when they offered around $3 million over one year -- roughly a 50-percent pay cut.
A day later, Bartelstein met with Smith.
"Lovie told me 'Listen, I know you're frustrated. Let's just work through the thing and we'll get it done,' " Bartelstein said. "I assured Lovie that Olin only wants to play for the Bears and he said, 'Don't worry, we'll get it done. We're not talking to any other center. Olin's going to be our guy.'
"So I have the head coach telling me this on Friday afternoon and on Saturday, we suddenly get an ultimatum, 'Take it or leave it.' "
Though Kreutz originally wanted a longer contract, he agreed to a one-year deal. But even then, negotiations basically went nowhere.
"At that point, I thought the contract would be a layup since we were willing to do what they wanted," Bartelstein said. "They knew Olin didn't want to go anywhere else. We were not using any other team as leverage. They knew they were going to get Olin signed."
The final straw, Bartelstein said, came Saturday when the Bears offered a one-year, $4 million deal and gave Kreutz an hour to accept it, bringing an end to the negotiations with the sides $500,000 apart.
"I knew at that point," Bartelstein said. "The last thing I wanted to do was go to Olin and say, 'The Bears, after 13 years, are giving you an ultimatum of one hour. They waited to make a proposal. Now, a day-and-a-half later, they're giving you an ultimatum.' "
Angelo said the Bears had to speed up the timetable because the market was starting to pick up after "a little bit of a dormant period," and they were afraid to lose Spencer.
"The whole idea that they had to move fast because they were worried about Chris Spencer, I'm not buying that because if they wanted Olin Kreutz, they knew they could make a deal with Olin Kreutz and they've got plenty of cap room," Bartelstein said, adding he wasn't in serious negotiations with other teams. "The way it was handled, the message was sent, was nobody wants to go to work for someone who makes it seem like they're sticking a needle in their eye to bring you back to work. That's the way it felt."
Angelo and Smith disputed the perception they were on different pages when it came to Kreutz.
"I resent the fact that something was written that said there is a divide, and regardless of what anybody says, that's not true," Angelo said. "That's a lie. And it's fabricated and I resented it when I read that. That to me was dirty pool. We talk about everything. Do we agree on everything? Absolutely not. You don't agree on everything with your wife. How am I going to agree with 18 coaches and 15 scouts? It doesn't work that way.
"But at the end of the day we've got to make a decision and we all agree on one thing: Once we make a decision, we're all for it. We're going to make it work. That's what teams do."
Smith said it's "not Jerry and Lovie."
"We make these decisions," he said. "We've come to this conclusion. You try to negotiate. Sometimes it just doesn't work out. That's how it happened for us. Everyone knows what Olin Kreutz has done for us in the past and that's quite a bit. But this is a new year and we're going in this direction, and we feel good about it. We have a good football team."
But they might have to perform some damage control in the locker room.
Safety Chris Harris made his feelings clear on Twitter, writing, "All I can say is wow when it comes to Olin Kreutz ............REALLY?!?!??!?!"
He followed that with this post: "Olin Kreutz departure won't sit well in the locker room for a few days."
Asked if he believes Kreutz can still play at a high level in the NFL, Bears guard Roberto Garza said: "Absolutely. We trained together this whole offseason trying to get ready for the season. He looks and feels great, and you know, I thought it was a no-brainer [him coming back to Bears], but whatever he decides. He knows his body, he knows what he wants to do. We'll see what happens."
Now, the Bears are turning to the 29-year-old Spencer, the 26th overall pick by Seattle in the 2005 draft. Back then, Bears director of player personnel Tim Ruskell was the Seahawks' general manager. Ruskell resigned from the Seattle post in 2009 with Spencer among his draft-day disappointments.
Spencer is joining a team that advanced to the NFC Championship Game despite big issues on the line, particularly in the early going. The Bears allowed a league-leading 56 sacks, and although the protection improved as the season wore on, that unit remains a big question mark, particularly with its leader now gone.
Spencer will have to learn Mike Martz's system quickly and, Angelo insisted, earn a starting job. For now, Roberto Garza is filling in at center.
"He stands for what a Chicago Bear is," Garza said of Kreutz. "Tough. Hard-nosed football player. He made his teammates better."
Melissa Isaacson is a reporter and columnist for ESPNChicago.com. Information from ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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