Tough Kreutz cut displays NFL's ugly bottom line

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Olin Kreutz embodies Bears toughness for many teammates and Chicago fans. (Getty Images)  
Olin Kreutz embodies Bears toughness for many teammates and Chicago fans. (Getty Images)  

This is the other side of the free agency frenzy: the release of a popular veteran and the angry, almost vitriolic reaction from players to his axing.

The use of the word release doesn't do justice to what happened to Chicago center Olin Kreutz. He played in the NFL for 13 years. He was seen as an invaluable component and there may not have been a more popular player on the Bears.

On Sunday night, Kreutz was cut, and it was the type of unceremonious dumping that makes football the cruelest of all sports. Kreutz told ESPNChicago.com he might retire as a result of the axing. That remains doubtful because Kreutz will likely get interest from other teams but just the fact he's thinking it says all you need to know.

The reaction inside the locker room was, well, spitting ugly. One Bears player texted to me there was a "borderline mutiny" among the players. He expects things to calm as the daily routine of training camp takes hold but the Bears are an angry team for the moment. "All I can say is wow when it comes to Olin Kreutz … REALLY?!?!??!?!" Bears safety Chris Harris wrote on Twitter, getting his caps lock on. He added: "Kreutz's depature [sic] won't sit well in the locker room for a few days #realtalk."

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"It's hard to put into words," said Chicago guard Roberto Garza told reporters when asked what Kreutz meant to the Bears, according to several local media reports. "He stands for what a Chicago Bear is. Tough, hard-nosed football player. He made his teammates better."

The details of how Kreutz met his Chicago demise are irrelevant. What's important is the Kreutz situation demonstrates the downside of the free agency high. To the simple, free agency seems cool, like a video game, but with every high profile signing, there is an ugly aspect. There is blood spilled and loyalties slashed.

Across the NFL landscape there are carcasses everywhere. Marion Barber was released by the Cowboys after years of banging his head and taking kidney shots. He was far from the only one in Dallas. The Cowboys released any player and his jockstrap that wasn't named Romo or tied down to a concrete slab.

Green Bay axed Mark Tauscher. Dozens of other vets from around the sport were cut: Leonard Davis, Derek Anderson, Derrick Mason, Shaun O'Hara, Ty Warren, Flozell Adams ... the list goes on and on.

For every Nnambi Asomugha who smiles and cashes a check, there is a longtime veteran on the phone with his agent and looking for work. It's the yin and yang of the salary cap -- veteran in and veteran out. The signings come with a price.

No one should shed tears for multi-millionaires, particularly when real people lose real jobs in an economy where unemployment hovers near 10 percent. But within the insular world of professional football, the cutting of Kreutz is a big deal.

It has always been this way. Football has always been about the cash, but now, with the sport awash in it, the cuts seem harsher than ever before. The difference between the Bears and Kreutz before negotiations ended was $500,000. The salary cap tops $120 million.

Kreutz played in 191 games total and in 155 of his last 156 with Chicago (including playoffs). It was an incredible run and that run built intense loyalty from teammates who watched Kreutz play through devastating injuries.

"The only guy I know who would play with a broken bone or multiple broken bones," tweeted Chicago defensive lineman Anthony Adams.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo is currently wearing the black hat. He spoke these blunt words when asked about Kreutz by local media: "Come on, this isn't a wake. We're sad, but nobody died."

So, there's that.

The Bears signed former Seattle center Chris Spencer as the most likely replacement for Kreutz. Body in, body out. But good luck, Chris.

The way players are getting cut these days you might want to watch your back.

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