--A potential season-long headache was averted on Wednesday (April 11) when the Bears rewarded seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs with a one-year contract extension that will keep him through the 2014 season.
"I'm grateful," Briggs said. "I'm just very appreciative right now that the work has been recognized and that it got handled as fast as it did."
Briggs, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract before the 2008 season that has two years remaining, stands to realize $7 million in new money.
He led the Bears in tackles last season for the third time in four years with 147 and was voted to his seventh straight Pro Bowl. He had been angling for a new deal since before last season. It took just a few weeks to get it finalized after his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, initially spoke with Bears general manager Phil Emery at the Scouting Combine in late February.
"We're very excited for Lance and for the Bears," Emery said. "This is a very positive step for our team in our efforts to win championships."
Briggs, 31 has been a model of consistency since he was drafted in the third round out of Arizona in 2003. He has missed just four games and seven starts in nine seasons and has had at least 120 tackles every year since his rookie season, when he had 81.
Briggs has led the Bears in tackles in 2004, '08, '09 and '11, and he finished second in '05, '06, '07 and '10. According to STATS, Inc., Briggs leads the NFL with 65 1/2 stuffs (a tackle of a rusher for negative yards) over the past nine seasons. During that time he also leads NFL linebackers with three interception returns for touchdowns.
--With linebacker Lance Briggs happy now with his one-year contract extension, the Bears' only pressing concern is running back Matt Forte.
He has yet to sign his guaranteed $7.742 million contract tender as the team's franchise player because he wants a long-term deal with $16 million or so guaranteed up front.
Forte is expected to boycott the Bears' offseason program and perhaps training camp and the preseason if he doesn't have his deal done by the July 16 deadline.
"He's a grown man, and I'd tell him to do what he feels is right," said Briggs, who played a season as the Bears' franchise player before he got his six-year contract. "You do what you feel is right because I can't come in his house and say that I'm going to feed his family, and neither can you, and neither can anybody else. It's up to him to feed his family, and it's his life and his career. He knows what his value is, and I think all of us know what his value is. So he knows what he's doing. I will continue to support him and hope that he gets the deal that he knows he deserves, and we all do."
--Forte cannot participate in the Bears' voluntary offseason weight-lifting program, which commences Monday, or any other team activity, including OTAs, minicamp or training camp.
Neither middle linebacker Brian Urlacher nor coach Lovie Smith foresees a problem.
"In the offseason I tell the guys, 'If you have an issue with your contract, out of season is the time to work on those things,'" Smith said. "That's what Matt is going through right now."
Because of the labor dispute last year, there was no offseason program, and Forte came to camp in the best shape of his life.
"Matt takes care of himself," Urlacher said. "He knows the offense, he's a smart guy, and he's always in shape. He's the least of my concerns."
--Linebacker Lance Briggs believes the Bears, whose 8-8 record last season pales compared to the Packers' NFL-best 15-1 mark, are capable of competing with any team in the NFL after several offseason moves.
"It feels like a miracle with what they've done," Briggs said. "This offseason has been extremely aggressive. (We) went out and got a bunch of guys who are going to help us win a championship. I know that other teams looking in on the moves (believe) that we are a contender. And even guys that have signed know that they signed here instead of other places because we're a contender and continue to put more and more pieces to the puzzle to help make this championship run.
"Would I call us the Dream Team? No, I would not. But I would say we're a championship-caliber team -- potentially. We have to go out and transition it to the field."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I think we've improved our talent as much as anything. As far as closing the gap (with the Packers and Lions), I mean, we didn't win the championship this year, so we have to get back. I know we've improved our talent since we played last, and that's all you're trying to do in the offseason." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith.
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