Bears face Urlacher dilemma

If they cut ties with aging middle linebacker next season, he may be more difficult to replace then than in short term now

When the Bears line up to play the Vikings at the Metrodome, they may be getting a look into the 2013 season.

They will be without Brian Urlacher, who has a hamstring pull. And being without him next season is a possibility.

The 34-year-old linebacker's future with the team is very much up in the air, as his contract will expire in March and there have been no indications of the Bears' intentions.

Replacing Urlacher next year likely would be much more complicated than replacing him for a few games this year. The problem is the options probably are not going to be very appealing.

Let's start with free agency. It's going to be slim pickings at middle linebacker.

There is one established middle linebacker who is coming out of contract: Rey Maualuga of the Bengals. At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, Maualuga has the type of body the Bears would seek.

He has not played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level, but he is pretty productive.

"He's a physical downhill player who is not overly instinctive," one front-office man said. "He has some splash plays but gets a little out of control."

Another intriguing option could be the Ravens' Dannell Ellerbe. He knows what it is like to replace an icon, having stepped into the Ravens' starting lineup when Ray Lewis was injured. And he has performed well.

The 27-year-old never had been a starter before replacing Lewis and has potential.

Rolando McClain of the Raiders is under contract, but he could be cut. The eighth pick of the 2010 draft has more ability than most middle linebackers. Problem is, he has not shown it since his rookie season, and he is considered a locker-room distraction. That's why he may be available. Still, he could be worth a gamble.

The draft could offer two outstanding middle linebacker prospects in Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Alabama's C.J. Mosely, an underclassman who is likely to go pro. Both should be gone in the top dozen or so picks before the Bears likely will be picking.

Given the Bears' multiple needs, trading extra picks to move up is not a likely solution.

A couple of second- or third-round possibilities worth considering are Penn State's Michael Mauti and Oregon's Kiko Alonso.

Mauti's 2012 season ended with a knee injury, and he has had recurring knee problems. But he is a pretty good player. Alonso is an intriguing mix of instincts, motor and suddenness, and he has been productive.

Because of the scarcity of talent at middle linebacker, these players may be drafted higher than their talent would indicate.

All of which may make re-signing Urlacher the most attractive option for the Bears.

Numbers games

Marshall's share

Brandon Marshall said last week he expects to carry a bigger load at this time of year.



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