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Monday, March 5, 2007
Briggs to Bears: Rescind the tag or trade me

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Under the right circumstances, two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs could play his entire career with the Chicago Bears, and be a happy man.

"The Chicago Bears team? The coaches, players, city and fans? Yeah, I could stay there forever. I love it. But the Chicago Bears organization? I don't want to be there anymore. I won't play for them and I'll do everything in my power to keep from playing there."
-- Lance Briggs

Under the restrictive terms of the franchise designation with which the Bears have marked him, though, and with the defending NFC champions apparently offering him nothing more than the one-year option it entails, Briggs said Sunday evening that he doesn't want to play another day for the club that brought him into the league in 2003.

"There's a difference between the Chicago Bears team and the Chicago Bears organization," Briggs told ESPN.com, when reached Sunday evening at his home in suburban Chicago. "The Chicago Bears team? The coaches, players, city and fans? Yeah, I could stay there forever. I love it. But the Chicago Bears organization? I don't want to be there anymore. I won't play for them and I'll do everything in my power to keep from playing there."

In a 30-minute conversation by phone, Briggs -- distressed by the restrictions of the NFL franchise tag, by his inability to shop himself in the free agent market, and by the recent departure of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera -- offered his first insights into his current situation.

And he offered, Briggs said, what is the only truly viable solution to an untenable circumstance.

"They need to either [rescind] the franchise tag, and let me move on, or trade me to another team," Briggs said. "Because that's about the only way this thing can have any kind of a positive resolution."

Having failed last spring to consummate a long-term contract with Briggs -- reportedly a seven-year, $33 million deal on which both sides worked for several weeks before the negotiations collapsed -- the Bears employed the franchise tag last week to keep the four-year veteran off the open market.

It marked the first time under the stewardship of general manager Jerry Angelo, who in the past has acknowledged the potential acrimony that accompanies the franchise marker, the Bears have used the restriction.

The qualifying offer for a franchise linebacker is $7.206 million, the average of the top five highest paid players at the position. But only three days into free agency, top defenders such as cornerback Nate Clements (with San Francisco), edge rusher Adalius Thomas (New England) and middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker (Washington) have signed lucrative contracts with new teams.

Sitting at home, watching the free agency parade pass him by, Briggs became, he acknowledged, increasingly frustrated by his lot. And not just, he emphasized, by the financial implications of the situation.

"You hate to get into that whole 'lack of respect' thing," Briggs said. "But you play four years for a team, do your best, exceed their expectations, right? And every year, it's like, 'You played great, Lance.' And they kind of dangle the carrot, like they're going to take care of you, and then it doesn't happen. I mean, I was a middle-round pick and I've played well for them. Four years and at just middle-round salaries. I haven't caused any kinds of problems. I've done everything they asked and them some. And I don't know if I ever really knew where I stood with them until they put the tag on me."

A former Arizona standout, Briggs was chosen by the Bears in the third round of the 2003 draft. He earned a starting job as a rookie, emerged by his third seasons as one of the NFL's top young weakside 'backers, and was chosen for the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.

Even playing in the lengthy shadow of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, with whom he has become close friends, Briggs is regarded leaguewide as a top defender and playmaker.

He did sit out the voluntary portion of the team's offseason workouts last spring, it should be noted, but reported for the mandatory workouts and was in training camp on time.

There is little doubt that if Briggs was in the unrestricted pool right now, he would be a coveted player. But the Bears seem inclined to force him to play for the one-year franchise offer and there have been no discussions on a long-term deal since last spring. Under the current rules, Chicago has until July 16 to sign Briggs to a longer deal or he must play 2007 for the franchise number.

Which is something, Briggs said Sunday night, he won't do.

"It's a great bunch of guys with a great future, but I can't see myself as being part of that future anymore," Briggs said. "Whatever options are available to me, I'll take advantage of them. But going back and playing for the Bears again, no, I don't see that as an option. Not one more day. Not at all."

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.