Commentary

Steady as he goes

Brown didn't put up big sack numbers with Bears, but he was stabilizing influence

Updated: March 31, 2010, 5:57 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

[+] EnlargeAlex Brown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAlex Brown didn't post big sack numbers but he was a consistent force on the Bears' line for eight seasons.

Great, another tweet. And this one carrying even worse news than Oney Guillen leaving the White Sox, if you can believe it.

But at least we don't have to do too much deciphering to spot a goodbye. Chicago Bears defensive end Alex Brown made it official Wednesday by thanking the team that cut him loose and wishing the organization the best.

Brown wrote off his apparent exit from the Bears as "the nature of the business" and did not reveal any bitter feelings as he tweeted, "Bear down!"

If he could have sung one last verse of the team fight song, I'm quite certain he would have, for that's the kind of guy he is. But most teams these days don't put much of a premium on dependable players and stand-up people.

They want more. More production. More for their money. More evidence that as high-powered executives, they're doing their jobs when in most cases, less is more.

In Brown's situation, a little hand-wringing is fair game. For all the sacks he didn't ring up, you knew what you were going to get from him each day, each practice, each season. Dependability. Durability. No surprises. On a defense that is a far cry from the league elite, above-average known quantities like the eight-year veteran should be considered gold.

But the Bears, in that arrogant way they have, will roll the dice that Mark Anderson will somehow snap back into the carefree rookie who had 12 sacks in 2006, as opposed to the guy who has disappeared since then, handing the starting job back to Brown, who never deserved to have it taken away in the first place.

Or maybe the braintrust will turn to Israel Idonije, a better tackle than end who has yo-yo'd so dramatically on the scale per Lovie Smith's orders these last few seasons that he may soon develop an eating disorder.

Alex Brown I am extremely grateful for my time as a Chicago Bear and I wish the Bears the best. I am glad that they gave me an opportunity to realize a dream I had as a child. I appreciate the fans but as we all know this is the nature of the business. Bear down!

-- Alex Brown's tweet

Apparently, the signing of Julius Peppers for $91.5 million for six seasons [a guaranteed $40.5 million over the next three years] has made the Bears suddenly cost-conscious. As they enter a season without a salary cap, they are now going to cut corners [not that releasing Nathan Vasher wasn't a good move, ha ha], determining that Peppers plus anything is too much money at one position.

But if cost-cutting was the objective, why not say goodbye to Tommie Harris, who has been on a downward spiral for the past few seasons and hit a new low last year when he was held out of the Cincinnati Bengals game by coaches decision despite being healthy enough to play? With roster bonuses, Harris will make more than $4 million this season and there are more viable potential replacements at tackle than at end.

And OK, yes, Brown is a better person.

All that said, turning the Brown good-bye into high drama feels like everything that is depressing about being a Bears fan.

You can talk all you want about Brown's nose for the ball, all the intangibles he offers, his leadership and all-around good-guy persona. And it would all be true. But he plays a position that demands inflicting fear on the quarterback and ringing up dominant sack totals. And he played on the right side, which demanded that he do that with more speed than he possesses, which even he understood as he appeared willing and eager to move to the left side with the signing of Peppers.

Because Brown did all the former but not the latter, there just wasn't enough trade interest, plain and simple. Nobody wanted to pick up his $5 million salary this season and $5.5 million in 2011.

And if standards weren't so low at that position, we would not be lamenting losing a serviceable player who the Bears have been seemingly looking to replace since unceremoniously demoting him for Anderson three years ago.

Still, he will be missed. Drafted in the fourth round out of Florida after word got around that he took off plays -- a charge that never proved true in the pros -- Brown wasn't the only leader in the Bears' lockerroom. But he was an All-Pro postgame and selfishly, his candor will leave a big void there.

So honest was Brown that he was the go-to guy for reporters after tough losses and you wonder if that made him any more expendable in the eyes of an organization not exactly given to forthrightness.

Some of Brown's best moments in the quote department:

  • What was the difference for the Bears in their 17-9 victory over St. Louis, Brown was asked this past season, as opposed to their play in previous weeks?

    "The Rams," he said. "Honestly, I don't think we're fooling anybody when we say the Rams aren't Minnesota, you know?"

  • And then there was this after Arizona's 41-21 thumping of the Bears at home, which was actually more embarrassing than their 35-point loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago prior.

    "I think we have to be together before we can fall apart," Brown said then, offering rare insight into the team's psyche. "You've got to believe that you're going to win."

  • Just hope he left behind some of his notes.

    Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

    Melissa Isaacson

    Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
    Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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