LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- At the time Brian Urlacher's contract was restructured in the summer of 2008, it was fair to speculate if linebacker still would be in the league when the deal expired after the 2012 season.
Urlacher had, after all, dealt with back, neck and wrist injuries following the Bears' Super Bowl berth. Plus, the reworked agreement called for the Bears to pay Urlacher $18 million in new money, $8 million of which was payable in the final year of the deal in the form of base salary ($7.5 million) and workout bonuses ($500,000).
Given Urlacher's apparent declining health at the time, the odds of him being around to collect that entire amount seemed average at best.
But eight games into 2011, the appropriate question now seems to be should the Bears, at some point, consider extending Urlacher's contract beyond 2012? Even at 33 years old, the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker shows no signs of slowing down.
The 12-year veteran is currently second on the Bears defense in overall tackles (66), first in tackles for a loss (5), and tied for first in interceptions (3) at the midway point of the season.
"[He can play] as many [years] as he wants," Bears defensive end Israel Idonije said. "He's in phenomenal shape. His football IQ is out of this world. He knows the game like no one else, which allows him to play faster. He'll tell what is going to happen before it happens, which allows him to be in position to make plays. He's a physical specimen...he's in great shape. It just comes down to how long he wants to play.'
"Who says that [you can't get better with age]? Who is making that rule up? He's not an average guy, so you can't measure him by what you measure everybody else by. He's a special guy. He has the ability to play for as long as he wants. He loves the game, he's passionate about the game. I love watching his energy and just his approach to playing. That's why he's so successful, he's the ultimate competitor."
According to Idonije, whatever athleticism Urlacher lost due to age has been made up for in the intelligence department.
"Your understanding of how you get the job done changes. When you're young, there is a lot of wasted energy in achieving your assignment. As you get older, you kind of narrow all the extra things you do and you're able to be more effective because you actually know what you're are doing. When you are young you take a lot of steps to get from Point A to Point B. As you get older, you learn that you only have to do 1,2, 3 things, and do those things well. That's going to be your recipe for success."
You can certainly make the argument Urlacher and fellow linebacker Lance Briggs, who referred the Bears' linebacker duo as "vintage", were better all-around players earlier in their careers, however, the two veterans have been the driving force in the club's defensive improvement.
Urlacher had a team-high 11 tackles in the Bears 30-24 victory over Philadelphia.
"Probably not the best we’ve ever played, [but] we’re playing decent," Urlacher said. "We make mistakes still. We can still run a little bit. We still know where we’re supposed to fit. When we get athletic quarterbacks like Michael Vick, it gives us a chance to run. We’ve always been able to run. We can do that still. It gives us a chance to showcase what we can still do. But I don’t think we’re playing any better than we have in the past or any [worse]."
"I know the older you get you’re supposed to I guess go down," Smith said. "Your skills diminish a little bit. But we haven’t seen that. It seems like every year we’re talking about Brian and Lance. We’re talking about them having career years. So I don’t know when it will start to head the other direction. I just know that they’re playing great football. Both of them were outstanding Monday night. Lance Briggs isn’t supposed to be a 4.5 guy, but I would’ve sworn he was that on a couple of plays on Michael Vick, and Brian Urlacher, same thing; just running all over the field. They’re All-Pros and we need them to play that way each same."