Urlacher and Bears must reach understanding

He is not as athletic as he once was.

But last year he remained one of football's best linebackers. If he doesn't lose much more, letting him walk would be bad for business. And karma.

More than the face of the franchise, Urlacher remains the heart of the defense, the soul of the team. You don't treat him like he's some ham-and-egger.

The model is in Baltimore, where 37-year-old Ray Lewis does more than lead the Ravens in tackles every year.

He leads them in many ways. In preparation. In intensity. In direction.

Lewis is not the player he was either. In fact, he may not be the player Urlacher is at this stage. But he still is in the upper echelon. And the Ravens recognize he has a value to their team and their franchise that goes beyond stopping opposing running backs — that's what makes their relationship remain viable.

Lewis has aged exceptionally well. Urlacher might not.

But it is not unheard of to see extraordinary players — even big-hitting linebackers — make their value last longer than the average player, assuming they can stay healthy.

Bears Hall of Famer Bill George played until he was 37, though he finished up with the Rams. Junior Seau lasted until 40. Kevin Greene made it to 39. And Derrick Brooks lasted to 35.

It is possible Urlacher could keep going strong for another four or five years. And even if his play declines a bit, keeping him happy would be a boon for the team, the locker room and the Bears brand.

This is how it should end — Brian Urlacher Day at Soldier Field.

Speeches. Testimonials. Proclamations.

A large gathering of former teammates standing behind him. His children in his arms and by his side.

A jersey in a frame. A parting gift with lots of chrome and a big engine.

A standing ovation from nearly 64,000 people, many of whom are wearing his number. And applause. Long, heartfelt applause.

His reign as a Bear should end with Urlacher shedding a tear, but not one of disenchantment.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei
CHICAGO

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