Brian Urlacher's contract critical in solving Bears' cap predicament

By Matt Rybaltowski | CBSSports.com


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Brian Urlacher is willing to return to Chicago at a discounted price. (USATSI)

Just as Dick Butkus and Walter Payton spent the entirety of their Hall of Fame careers with the Chicago Bears, it's difficult to imagine Brian Urlacher wearing another jersey without the George S. Halas initials on his arm sleeve.

On Thursday, Urlacher's agents provided contract parameters for a new deal, league sources told the Chicago Sun-Times. The impending free agent, who is set to enter his 14th season in the NFL, has been realistic about his market value throughout the offseason. The eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker made $7.5 million in 2012, the final season of a five-year, $40.6 million contract he signed in 2008.

Slowed by knee and hamstring injuries, Urlacher, 34, had 68 tackles in 2012. In Urlacher's previous two seasons, he recorded 227 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions combined.

"When you look at my age and everything, it's going to be hard to not give them a discount,” Urlacher told WMVP-AM 1000 in late January. “I'm not going to make what I was making in the past, how about that? Does that make sense? That's fair."

Urlacher's potential return could be the first piece of the puzzle for a front office faced with the challenge of upgrading several positions in spite of limited cap space. The Bears enter free agency roughly $4 million under the $123 salary cap and have voids to fill at left tackle and tight end.

It's unlikely the Bears could ask veterans Matt Forte and Lance Briggs to restructure their contracts considering both signed new deals in the past year. The Bears could free up a significant amount of cap space, though, by reworking Julius Peppers' six-year, $84 million contract. The three-time All-Pro defensive end is set to earn a base salary of at least $12.9 million in each of the next two seasons. The team could convert a large portion of the salary into a signing bonus to open up approximately $10 million in cap space for 2013, according to ESPNChicago.

Urlacher has the backing of his teammates.

"Brian Urlacher is the quarterback of that defense, he is the linchpin in what drives us," defensive end Israel Idonije told 670 The Score in Chicago. “I think Brian is going to be back, he's a Chicago guy. He's really a big part of the team culture.”

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed, watch Pro Football 360 daily at 3 p.m. ET and NFL newsletter. You can also follow Matt Rybaltowski @mattrybaltowski.

 
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