Loss will be lamented little

There's no victim in Brian Urlacher departure from Bears; it's way of NFL world

If a career falls in Lake Forest and no one around cares to hear it …

Brian Urlacher's extraordinary career with the Bears ended with a resounding whimper Wednesday as an afternoon news release confirmed what long has been expected — that the linebacker and the team were worlds apart on a contract and will go their separate ways. Urlacher told the Tribune the Bears didn't make an offer, but rather gave him an ultimatum, hearkening back to the departure of center Olin Kreutz in 2011.

Like Kreutz, Urlacher's career can't be defined simply by Pro Bowls or years of service. The two each provided generation-defining leadership the likes of which makes such players legendary among teammates as much as storied around the league.

Urlacher produced a Hall of Fame career in his 13 years with the Bears, but there are no victims in this finish. Much as the Bears carefully and repeatedly claimed they never would "slight'' Urlacher, ultimately they made a business decision, the kind NFL teams often have to make when it comes to paying for current production as opposed to the ghost of greatness past.

And Urlacher, like so many before him, apparently is willing to take less money to play elsewhere than he would ever accept from the team that paid him so well for so long.

The weird thing is that despite Urlacher's face-of-the-franchise status and extensive jersey sales, his departure won't lead to a lighting of torches and a midnight raid of Halas Hall.

Urlacher's connection with the fans had become strained. He spent a season grunting answers in some ill-conceived support of Lance Briggs, defended an unpopular coach in Lovie Smith by saying he didn't care what the fans or media thought and became increasingly surly over the years when embarrassing moments in his private life became public.

Regardless, Urlacher always remained a great teammate and a popular player in the locker room. That element of his contribution to the team may be what the Bears miss most. Losing him weakens the defense, creates mistrust in the locker room and erodes the confidence of a veteran group of defensive players in a new coaching staff.

Charles Tillman will make about $8 million in the final year of his deal. The guy has been to two straight Pro Bowls, but suddenly finds himself coming out of contract at a position the league has tapped the brakes on this offseason. Is he anticipating the Urlacher treatment next year?

The simple fact is that the Bears won 10 games last year because of their defense, a unit led by Smith, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Urlacher in that order. Losing all three of them in one offseason underlines it is a new and different era. If the Bears do indeed fix their problems on offense is it possible they simply have come up with a different formula for losing games instead of a new one for winning them?

General manager Phil Emery said last week that the great thing about striking fast in free agency for an offensive tackle and a tight end is that it opens up the possibility of trading down. How far now can the Bears move? Don't they need to add linebackers immediately and often?

Urlacher's departure comes on the heels of Nick Roach's free agent departure to the Raiders. Roach was given a $5 million guarantee on a four-year, $13 million deal. That's a lot of money for another guy the Bears have no doubt they can live without.

Now the Bears effectively stand naked at linebacker with Lance Briggs and little else. Can they draft their way out of it? Not if they don't get more draft picks. And with respect to Emery's reputation as a draft guru, the Bears have effectively the same scouts in place who failed repeatedly to produce a linebacker through the draft in the Jerry Angelo era, during which the team flailed miserably 10 times at the position.

There has been a lot of talk about moving last year's first-round pick, Shea McClellin, from defensive end to linebacker. Maybe that would go a long way toward explaining the decision on Urlacher and even Roach. But if that is the solution it really only brings up more difficult questions.

If McClellin plays linebacker why did the Bears waste a season with him as a defensive end? Is the plan to use him as a two-down linebacker and then move him to pass rusher for passing downs? Remember, it was McClellin's ability as a speed rusher that led the team to take him over Chandler Jones in the first round with the 19th pick a year ago.

If they were looking for a defensive end they should have taken Jones. If they were looking for a linebacker shouldn't they have gone down into the second round to get a player like Bobby Wagner (47th) or Lavonte David (58th) and use the extra pick or picks to add needed depth? McClellin will have to be special at two different spots if he is going to rush the passer and help erase the memory of Urlacher.

There has been an inevitability to Urlacher's departure for a while now. The Bears wanted him to reach the free agent market and understand his value. But the finality of the situation, coming as it does without a deadline, just an arbitrary cutoff point, tells another story about value.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

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