BOURBONNAIS -- Lance Briggs has been to seven Pro Bowls, but none since the 2011 season.
Still, as he prepares for his 12th NFL campaign, the Bears' linebacker is confident enough to joke about his "depreciation."
"I've lost a couple of steps," he said. "Now, sometimes I have to fall into a tackle. If I'm lucky, a (runner) will fall, and I'll put my hand on him, and I'll get credit for it. That's where I'm at in (this) stage in my career."
In reality, the 33-year-old Briggs is still one of the key components on a defense looking for a resurrection after bottoming out in 2013. Part of last year's problem was that the amazingly durable Briggs missed seven games with a fractured shoulder. He had missed just four games in the previous 10 seasons.
"Last year was real rough," said Briggs, who finished with 87 tackles, the first time he had fewer than 120 in a season since his rookie year of 2003. "(But) you get that off-season, then you start getting that itch, start sleeping a little less and start dreaming about making plays."
For Bears fans, hopefully Briggs' dreams will replace the nightmare of 2013, when the Bears allowed more points than any team in franchise history. No team in the NFL was worse against the run, an area where Briggs has excelled since he was drafted in the third round out of Arizona.
This year the defense has been upgraded up front through free agency and the draft. But a healthy Briggs also is needed to shore up the run defense.
"If he's playing at full strength, like the way he started last season, we're going to be a lot better football team all around," head coach Marc Trestman said. "What he can do ripples through the entire team, just by his athleticism and his experience and leadership."
Although most of Trestman's attention is devoted to the offense, he can't help but notice Briggs across the line of scrimmage.
"I just feel his presence out there," the Bears' head coach said. "He's loud. He's making calls. He's getting people in the right positions. He's got a smile on his face at the right time. He's just good for our football team."
Briggs' three-year, $17.5 million contract expires after this season and, although he doesn't say when he'll leave the playing field, he says he wants to retire a Bear.
"Because I'm a true Bear," he said. "This is Year 12. I've given my blood, sweat and tears, and my heart to this city playing for this team. When it's all said and done, I'll retire a Bear."
That's a far cry from the animosity that characterized Briggs' financial dealings with the team in the past.
After the Bears said they would slap Briggs with the franchise tag for the 2007 season, which came with a one-year $7.2 million contract, he said: "I'll do everything in my power to not be in this organization." He added: "I've played my last snap for them. I'll never play another down for Chicago."
Briggs wanted a long-term deal so he boycotted mandatory minicamp but played with the franchise tag that season and made his third straight Pro Bowl. The following off-season he signed a six-year, $36 million contract, but halfway through the deal, he asked for a raise and then a trade when it didn't happen.
In 2012 he got the extension that resulted in his current deal.
A year later, Briggs was stung by the firing of Lovie Smith, his coach for nine seasons, and later the unceremonious departure of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, his running mate for 10 years.
"In one day, I learned that the coach that I had ... for the last nine years was going to be gone, and that whole staff and everybody that I was used to was going to be gone," Briggs said. "Then the guy who I shared a room with for 10 years is going to be gone. That's life, that's the way it is. It's business."
For now, Briggs claims to be content.
"I'm not talking about a contract, I'm just talking about playing football," he said. "I've seen a lot of guys come and go. I'm here, I'm happy and I'm just appreciative."
The Bears will feel the same way if Briggs can stay healthy for 16 games. And maybe there will be one more contract before Briggs decides to retire.
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