Lance Briggs wants Bears to talk
Briggs has three years remaining on a six year, $36 million extension signed prior to the 2008 season.
"The main ingredient here, based off my decision, is to get something," Briggs said on Monday. "To have management even be willing to talk. Whether it be, let's deal with it at the end of the year, let's deal with it after the season, then I have something to work with. But when the organization or management says we're not talking now, we're not talking ever, that puts me in a position where I know my days are numbered."
General manager Jerry Angelo made it clear there won't be a deal anytime soon.
"What he's doing is not something that hasn't been done here in Chicago and around the league," Angelo said Monday at a season ticketholders event. "We feel very, very confident that Lance's focus is going to be on the season and having a great year, and we'll just take care of our business when that time comes. And that'll be at the end of the year."
The six-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker is scheduled to earn a base salary of $3.65 million in 2011, a sharp decrease from what he made last year. In 2010, Briggs had a base salary of $3.145 million, but also a roster bonus of $3.3 million. He is scheduled to pocket a base salary of $3.75 million and $1.33 million likely to be earned bonuses in 2012, and a base of salary of $6.25 million in the final year of the deal.
"If I play at X amount of money, then this year I'm asked to play for half of that, my play doesn't decrease," Briggs said. "So I have every right to go in and ask for a raise, or in this case at least to flip the years. There is nothing wrong with that. From the business side, there is nothing wrong with that. Football players don't retire when we are 65 years old.
"What we are trying to do is creatively think of a way (to address the contract), any way, whether it be this year, next year, moving into the future. But there is no negotiating. I had to make a decision."
Briggs bristled when a reporter asked why the linebacker would sign a deal that cuts his pay in the fourth year of a contract. The deal Briggs agreed to in 2008 maxed out at $21.6 million over the first three years.
"If you understand how the (salary) cap works, you have to structure contracts in certain ways," Briggs said. "You have to spread it out over six years so you don't count too much against the cap. You have other players that have to be paid at the time, and they tell you, we have to save some of these dollars to pay some of the other players too. So you sign the deal you have to sign at the time. There are things the owners will not budge on. Going into the (new) CBA, things will not change.
"In the NFL, there aren't any guaranteed contracts. If I underperform, owners will cut me. They have the right to do that any time. They can cut me right before I'm supposed to get a bonus in March. For a player, we have every right to ask for a renegotiating, to ask for a trade, or to hold out."
Briggs salary cap number in 2011 is $4,766,666 compared to the $7,361,666 cap hit the Bears took because of the Pro Bowler last season.
The linebacker returned to practice Monday after missing the majority of the preseason with a knee injury. Briggs is expected to start when the Bears open up the regular season Sunday versus the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field.
"Nothing changes out on the practice field," Briggs said. "We go out there and we get coached. I get coached and I learn and get ready for our opponent. Nothing changes there."
"It hasn't affected him," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "Everyone here has a contract, and they are all honoring their contract. You go to work when you have a job to do. Your teammates (are) all expecting you to do your job, and that's what Lance has done. If there is something going on you can't tell it out here, and that's all I'm interested in."
Between Briggs' contract demand and running back Matt Forte's desire for a new deal as he enters his final season, the Bears have some big issues hanging over them as they prepare for the opener against Atlanta. They follow that with games against the past two Super Bowl champions when they visit New Orleans and host Green Bay before a possible breather against Carolina.
With high expectations after winning the NFC North and advancing to the conference championship game, this would have been a difficult stretch for Chicago even if two of its top players weren't seeking new deals.
Briggs is one of only four linebackers in franchise history to make six straight Pro Bowls, along with Dick Butkus, Bill George and Mike Singletary. He has led the team in tackles two of the past three years, so it's fair to say he has produced the way the Bears hoped. He doesn't appear to have much leverage, though.
Briggs turns 31 in November, and there's no guarantee he can continue to play at that level. Even if he does, it's no given the Bears would keep him with his salary escalating in the final year.
He knows Pro Bowl players can get cut, and a good example is new teammate Brandon Meriweather. He agreed to a one-year deal with Chicago after being released by New England over the weekend.
Holding out would not appear to be a good option for Briggs, considering players can be fined $30,000 a day under the new collective bargaining agreement.
"I didn't wake up and say 'I don't like it here, I want out,'" Briggs said. "I'm not a snap-decision type of person. It was long and thought out. I ran out of options."
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.