PHOENIX -- We've passed through the first week of NFL free agency, and league news probably will come at a slower pace over the next few days here at the plush Biltmore Resort. But one of the biggest news stories of the offseason still hangs over us: The future of Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
The sides are in enough of a contract stalemate that word leaked last week that Urlacher had discussed his status with the Minnesota Vikings, whose 2012 middle linebacker -- Jasper Brinkley -- has departed via free agency. While I don't expect Urlacher to join receiver Greg Jennings as NFC North defectors, I do think it's far from settled that he will return to the Bears.
The issue is important enough that I figured it was worth speaking to Bears chairman George McCaskey about it. As he walked the Biltmore halls, McCaskey said he personally hopes Urlacher returns but made clear the decision lies with general manager Phil Emery.
"As a fan," McCaskey said, "of course you want him back. He's been the face of the franchise. He's been an outstanding player, a Hall of Fame career. But I've tried to assure Bears fans since I became chairman that I don't involve myself in player personnel decisions unless there is a question of character. Of course, there is no question about Brian's character. So you have to leave that to the pros, the guys that make the evaluations, and hope for the best."
Urlacher's future isn't just a "player personnel decision." It's a franchise decision, and one that needs careful handling from all angles -- perhaps even a rare involvement from ownership. But I understand why McCaskey isn't inserting himself. If he makes an exception and orders Emery to re-sign him, he would leave Emery and the rest of the front office wondering when the next exception is coming. To maintain the wall he has advertised to fans, McCaskey has no other choice.
If I had to guess, I would assume the Bears have attached a value to Urlacher's return and are sticking to it. That financial figure is almost assuredly much lower than the $7.5 million he earned last season, and that's why the sides are where they are. This one is too murky to call. Stay tuned.