The Bears appear prepared to move on without Brian Urlacher for the first time since 1999, but that's not their first choice.
They can't afford to pay him the $5.5 million Ray Lewis got from the Ravens last season or the $10 million over two years that Urlacher wants. It's not that the Bears don't want Urlacher at all; they just don't want to be forced to cut more players to squeeze under an already tight salary cap to keep him.
Urlacher has reportedly had a dalliance with the Vikings, who are looking for a possible replacement for unrestricted free-agent middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley. But no offer has been forthcoming. He wants to stay in Chicago, and he's worth more to the Bears than anyone else, even though his skills have eroded.
General manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman were careful not to disrespect the eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Wednesday when they introduced big-name free agents Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett. But if you read between the lines, it certainly seems that retaining Urlacher is more of a want than a need.
"That is an ongoing process," Emery said, when asked about Urlacher. "We'll keep working through that process. As I said at the combine, once we work through that, everybody will know that decision."
That's an example of using 27 words to say nothing. But Emery continues to avoid belittling what Urlacher still means to the franchise and a fan base still loyal to the future Hall of Famer.
"Well, the talks are ongoing, so I don't why anybody would feel slighted," he said. "We haven't come to conclusion."
Trestman was respectful as well, without really committing to re-signing Urlacher for a 14th season.
"Brian is a very, very capable player," Trestman said. "I am excited about him being a part of this football team if that happens."
Urlacher will become much more important to the Bears if unrestricted free agent Nick Roach, the staring strong-side starting linebacker for most of the past five years, signs with the Raiders, who have already had him in for a visit. Last year's top backup, Geno Hayes, got a two-year deal Wednesday from the Jacksonville Jaguars and their new defensive coordinator Bob Babich, the Bears' former linebackers coach.
So, other than Lance Briggs, the Bears don't have a single linebacker on the roster who has started more than one game in the NFL (special-teamer Blake Costanzo), and none of them are potential starters. Even if the Bears use their first-round draft pick on a linebacker like Notre Dame's Manti Te'o or Georgia's Alec Ogletree, they'd still be short-handed.
Urlacher and the Bears both need each other. The team needs to find the money to make a decent offer, and the player needs to realize his best earning years are long gone.
Costanzo said it best Thursday afternoon when he tweeted: "Where is Urlacher? Damn, he's the heart and soul of this team."
ŸRestricted free agent defensive tackle Nate Collins re-signed with the Bears on Thursday for the veteran minimum of $715,000.
Collins played in nine games last season as a backup and had 13 tackles. If the Bears had tendered him at the lowest level to retain the right of first refusal, he would have cost them $1.323 million.
Ÿ Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.