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Bears best move is the one they didn't make

Let Vikings overpay for a once-great player destined to spend training camp in an ice tub

Dan McNeil

9:09 PM CDT, March 14, 2013

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Even the most pessimistic types have to tip the cap to the Bears for the big splash they made as free-agency season opened this week.

Martellus Bennett has a chance to be more of a difference-maker at tight end than the Bears have had since Mike Ditka.

As a bonus, Bennett, who joins his third team in seven years, seems delightfully flaky.

Jermon Bushrod gives the Bears something they haven't had since John Tait — a professional offensive tackle. Marc Trestman's offensive line is going to need more than just one newbie, but the former Saint instantly makes the Bears better up front, and his position — left tackle — isn't going to be changed. No more "Musical Bears."

What has me grinning, however, is the move the Bears didn't make. They let Tuesday's 3 p.m. opening bell for the meat market come and go without reupping with middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

How refreshing. General manager Phil Emery, devoid of sentiment, willfully invited one of Chicago's favorite sons to hit the bricks. Bravo.

It's true the Bears have not prepared for life without Urlacher, but I like the calculated gamble. Urlacher's camp was seeking $5 million.

It's a good thing Emery didn't consider public opinion and blindly cling to the best player in a Bears uniform over the last 25 years.

Let the Vikings overpay for a 35-year-old, once-great player who is destined to spend training camp in an ice tub. Whether it's Minnesota, Dallas or Arizona (all rumored to be interested), it's a lock Urlacher's new best friend will be the trainer.

Emery, now in his second year, perhaps learned from the mistake he made last offseason. I suspected the contract he extended to Matt Forte was an effort to keep peace in the locker room, where Forte has been popular.

This isn't hindsight. I said it and wrote it before the deal. The Bears would have been smart to put the franchise tag on Forte and let him prove his chops one more year before making a large commitment.

The NFL isn't a business that lends itself to sentimentality. I marvel at some of those who've used words like "disrespectful" and "insulting" when analyzing Urlacher's financial arrangement with the Bears.

Was the moody Hall of Fame-bound linebacker "respectful" of his employer when he whined and threatened to hold out — while under contract — a half-dozen years ago? Foolishly, Jerry Angelo placated Urlacher and gave him several million dollars when he wasn't even obligated to buy him dinner.

If Urlacher's teammates are "hurt" by his departure, they'll get over it. Those veterans who remain — Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers, maybe Israel Idonije — will be banging heads to protect their own financial futures.

And it's likely at least three of those players won't even be wearing football gear when the contracts of Emery and Trestman reach maturation.

The guys who wear helmets are expendable. Those who wear hats and neckties aren't.

The GM and the new coach are on the most solid ground that exists at Halas Hall. It's a breath of fresh air they're acting like it.

When Urlacher, with bad knees, hamstrings, a surgically repaired cervical spine and who knows what else, calls it quits, it then will be time to throw bouquets at him for his remarkable Bears career. Now is not the time to honor what he was.

What he will be is the guy in Bennett's rearview mirror when the tight end gets behind him in coverage and burns the once-special linebacker.

If Urlacher wears purple, Bennett and his new teammates will have two chances to do that next season.

If, that is, Urlacher dresses for both NFC North meetings.

Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.