Briggs, Bears near deal Teammate says LB will sign, be at camp
By David Haugh Tribune staff reporter
July 25, 2007, 12:51 AM CDT
One of the biggest questions facing the Bears all off-season has been when linebacker Lance Briggs will end his holdout from training camp.
Maybe it won't even begin.
There were strong indications Tuesday night the two sides either were coming close to an agreement that would end a messy contract dispute or had solved it altogether.
Reached on his cell phone, Briggs said "no comment" when asked if he had agreed to sign the one-year contract tender worth a guaranteed $7.2 million and report on time Thursday to the start of training camp in Bourbonnais.
But earlier in the night a Bears teammate who had spoken with both Briggs and a league source said the linebacker had agreed to sign the deal and avoid a holdout the Bears had been dreading.
Asked about the rumors Briggs had agreed to sign the contract and report on time, the player said, "True."
Efforts to reach his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, were unsuccessful.
Rosenhaus and the Bears have continued to speak even after the July 16 deadline to work out a long-term deal for franchise players passed. After a visit to Halas Hall last month, Rosenhaus said he had presented some creative proposals to the team.
Among them were believed to be the possibility of paying Briggs a large portion of the $7.2 million up front, which would serve as a smaller signing bonus. The Bears also have offered to rescind the franchise tag on Briggs for 2008 if he agrees to end the impasse and begin what they believe can be a Super Bowl season.
A team source said it would be fair to say recent discussions left many in the organization hopeful a resolution could be reached in time for the start of camp.
It has been a busy month of planning ahead for the Bears. Locking up cornerback Charles Tillman to a six-year extension Tuesday came weeks after signing an extension with cornerback Nathan Vasher.
The Bears probably didn't envision making that type of commitment to one position group, but when Briggs turned down a long-term contract offer in 2006, the team said it was moving on to other core players.
Asked about Briggs during a teleconference, Tillman said, "I'm going to miss him."
Perhaps it won't be as long as he thinks.
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As far as clutch moves go, the one Lance Briggs pulled Wednesday eventually could rank up there with stopping Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander on fourth-and-1 in the NFC divisional playoff game last January.
Briggs stepped up, took a hit and did whatever was necessary to finish the job—in this case complete an exceptional off-season for a Bears team poised to repeat as NFC champions.
In agreeing to sign a one-year contract tender worth a guaranteed $7.2 million rather than begin a distracting holdout, the Bears' franchise player put the team above himself.
For as much criticism as Briggs deserved for turning his contract squabble into a me-first circus that threatened the legitimacy of a Super Bowl contender, he earned as much credit Wednesday by doing the right thing.
Efforts to reach Briggs so he could explain himself were unsuccessful, but the metamorphosis couldn't have been an easy one.
It couldn't have been easy to open a door he slammed shut several times with proclamations that turned out to be grandstanding.
It couldn't have been easy to sign a contract to wear a uniform for a team Briggs openly denounced and said he never—never—would play for again.
It couldn't have been easy coming to the realization that the Bears just weren't going to budge no matter how loud or flashy agent Drew Rosenhaus' staged national media campaign became.
For pro athletes like Briggs, pride can be harder to swallow than a glass of cod-liver oil. But applaud Briggs for joining Mark Buehrle of the White Sox and Andres Nocioni of the Bulls among local players who recently put the chance to win ahead of the chance to become another example of the spoiled sports millionaire.
All the angst Briggs created made the off-season more interesting than it might have been if he had made this same decision in February. But all the noise is irrelevant now, and likely all will be forgiven and forgotten the first time No. 55 makes another big hit behind the line of scrimmage.
Sure, the Bears' defense could have survived the 2007 season without Briggs at weak-side linebacker. But it will thrive with him.
Don't expect Briggs to arrive in a great mood when he does report to Bourbonnais, which still might be after Friday's first practice. He apparently has some previous commitments made back when he expected to spend August standing beside Rosenhaus during news conferences in someone's driveway.
But he ultimately shouldn't feel all bad about a contract that still will pay him $425,000 a week for the privilege of playing for one of the NFC's best teams.
After all, the deal provides Briggs two things he sought: some money up front and freedom in 2008.
The Bears will advance Briggs $1 million—a fraction of the signing bonus players of lesser stature have been guaranteed in the off-season. The team also agreed it won't saddle Briggs with the franchise tag in 2008 if he participates in 75 percent of the defensive snaps this season. That's a virtual guarantee if Briggs stays healthy, because he has averaged nearly 90 percent of the defensive snaps the last three years.
Yes, losing an All-Pro linebacker without adequate compensation will hurt, but it beats entering a potential NFC championship season with an All-Pro linebacker holding out and causing a distraction.
The Bears had to sacrifice something, and getting Briggs now is worth potentially letting him walk away for nothing later. Remember nothing says that the Bears still cannot re-sign him if the dynamics change in a league where the only constant is change.
"We'll address the long-term contract then, after the season, but this right now was an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive situation," Rosenhaus said. "In the end, it just made the most sense for Lance to come in, be with his teammates, be in a city he really likes and appreciates, and effectively take care of the tag issue for next year in the process."
In the end, Rosenhaus made a smart business decision and justified why Briggs and so many other players hire him. The solution required ingenuity as well as the ability for all sides to keep separate the personal from the professional, such as ignoring Briggs' blather about wanting to be "the man" in another defense.
The Bears also saved face by holding their ground and showing the rest of the players in the locker room they wouldn't be bullied by a disgruntled employee nor his flamboyant agent.
It couldn't have hurt the Bears that they honored their pledge to Rosenhaus made before last season to move another client, former Bears running back Thomas Jones, which they did to the Jets. And the positive result from these negotiations bodes well for Rosenhaus client Tommie Harris, the next Bear to break the bank whenever he signs what could be a landmark deal for defensive tackles.
The Bears' front office did what serious Super Bowl contenders do. It attacked the off-season like a team coming off a 5-11 season instead of a Super Bowl appearance, locking up its coach, improving its offense, signing its draft picks and securing a solid future.
Many people around the league took note. Looks like Briggs paid attention too.