Although Kreutz hasn't signed with another team in free agency, the six-time Pro Bowl center began informing teammates on Saturday that he doesn't anticipate re-signing with the team that drafted him in the third round of the 1998 draft.
"He's always wanted to make a deal with the Bears. But right now, it doesn't look like it's going to happen," said Kreutz's agent, Mark Bartlestein.
A 13-year veteran, Kreutz had declined more lucrative offers in the past from other teams to remain with the Bears. This time might prove different because the Bears, according to sources, made minimal offers throughout the negotiation process. Of all of the free agent centers to come onto the market, Kreutz had been to the most Pro Bowls (6).
In addition, he has started in a team-high 134 consecutive games, a streak he started in 2002. Apparently none of that was important enough for the Bears to make an offer that would keep Kreutz in Chicago.
Kreutz's experience and leadership were reasons Bears coach Lovie Smith, offensive coordinator Mike Martz, and offensive line coach Mike Tice adamantly expressed prior the NFL lockout the team's desire to bring back Kreutz.
Smith reiterated his optimism about the prospects for bringing back Kreutz on Friday, with Tice chiming in as well.
"We'd love to him back," Tice said. "I understand the business, though."
The staff hoped to re-sign Kreutz to direct what should be a relatively young line in 2011, with a rookie and second-year player expected to start at the tackle positions. The offensive line allowed a league-high 52 sacks last season, and the staff has stated a strong desire to see significant improvement in the unit this year.
"He meant a lot to us as a team, and to us as an offense," offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb said on Sunday morning. "He's definitely, other than Jay [Cutler], he's the leader of the offense, a leader on and off the field. To not have him back won't hurt us, but we definitely won't have the same leadership qualities."
Without Kreutz, that might be difficult to achieve.
"It would be a tough position to fill," Bears guard Roberto Garza said. "His leadership, his skills, what he brings to this team, he makes everybody around him better. Hopefully, we don't have to go through that."
But at this point, it appears to be inevitable.
An NFL source said that the San Francisco 49ers sent Kreutz a contract proposal Wednesday night, and the terms in that potential agreement were much better than what the Bears -- who hadn't sent in a proposal by then -- were discussing.
According to the source, the terms offered by the Bears didn't reflect the center's importance to the team or account for their own situation, which could become significantly worse, should Kreutz decide to sign elsewhere in free agency, and the team fails to find a suitable replacement.
"Olin is irreplaceable at this position as a guy who holds everybody accountable," guard Chris Williams said. "He's honestly irreplaceable. I just can't imagine going in without him, but that's out of my hands."
Michael C. Wright and Jeff Dickerson cover the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. ESPNChicago.com columnist Melissa Isaacson contributed to this report.