All-Pro linebacker Briggs signs one-year tender offer
Two-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs, who was unable this spring to reach a long-term deal with the Chicago Bears as a designated franchise player, on Wednesday agreed to sign the one-year qualifying offer of $7.206 million that accompanies the tag, and report to camp on Thursday.
Chicago will advance Briggs, who had earlier threatened to sit out until the 10th week of the season, $1 million of the $7.206 million. More important, the Bears have agreed that they will not use a franchise marker in 2008 on Briggs, to again limit his mobility, provided that he participates in 75 percent of the defensive snaps this season.
Briggs, 26, has averaged nearly 90 percent of the defensive snaps the past three years.
So if Briggs remains healthy through the season, and reaches the same playing time levels that he has in recent seasons, Chicago will not be able to keep him off the unrestricted free agent market next spring.
"Lance decided it was in his best interests, and those of the Bears, to play football in 2007, and to be in camp on time preparing to do so," agent Drew Rosenhaus said Monday evening. "He wants to create the most positive atmosphere possible for himself, and he did not want this to be a distraction to the team. It's a good compromise for everyone involved."
A four-year veteran, Briggs has chafed much of the offseason at being designated as the Bears' franchise player. After rejecting a seven-year, $33 million contract extension last spring, Briggs had sought a long-term deal again in recent months. Bears officials, though, were steadfast in maintaining that they would not offer a multiple-year deal, and that Briggs' lone option was to sign the franchise tender.
In an interview with ESPN.com in March, Briggs didn't mince words about Chicago, the Bears and his teammates.
"There's a difference between the Chicago Bears team and the Chicago Bears organization," Briggs said. "The Chicago Bears team? The coaches, players, city and fans? Yeah, I could stay there forever. I love it. But the Chicago Bears organization? I don't want to be there anymore. I won't play for them and I'll do everything in my power to keep from playing there."
Briggs was adamant about his future of playing for the Bears in 2007.
"Whatever options are available to me, I'll take advantage of them. But going back and playing for the Bears again, no, I don't see that as an option. Not one more day. Not at all."
Chicago balked at a long-term deal for Briggs, in part because the Bears' organization has already committed $6 million-$7 million per year to five-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Although the Bears invested heavily to sign both starting cornerbacks, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman to long-term deals within the past month, the club did not place a similar priority on the linebacker position.
The Bears' coaches also feel that a pair of young linebackers, second-year veteran Jamar Williams and rookie Michael Okwo, could soon be ready to move into the lineup. Both are projected as potential replacements for Briggs at weakside linebacker if he departs after the 2007 campaign.
Rosenhaus said that his client considered accepting the same arrangement from the Bears -- a one-year deal with the promise that the franchise tag wouldn't be used again in '08 -- earlier in the spring. But Briggs held out some hope that a trade could be consummated, and the Bears did negotiate with the Washington Redskins on a deal in March and April. The two sides were unable, though, to consummate a trade.
When he was in Chicago negotiating a contract for first-round tight end Greg Olsen three weeks ago, Rosenhaus re-opened dialogue with Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo about Briggs, and talks continued, finally resulting in Wednesday's accommodation.
"Once we got beyond the July 16 deadline [for franchise players to sign multi-year deals]," Rosenhaus said, "this was the best option. At that point, the Bears couldn't sign Lance to a long-term contract, and neither could any other team that acquired him in a trade. And so we tried to make this work, because, under that scenario, he wanted to remain with the Bears. And it's been my experience that players who hold out from camp tend to not play as well. This allows Lance to have another great season, and then we'll see what happens."
The agreement with Briggs means that just one of the original seven franchise players this year, New England cornerback Asante Samuel, does not have a contract.
Three of the players -- Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney (six years, $72 million), New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant (seven years, $63 million) and Detroit defensive tackle Cory Redding (seven years, $49 million), signed long-term contracts. In addition to Briggs, Cincinnati defensive end Justin Smith ($8.64 million) and Seattle kicker Josh Brown ($2.078 million) signed their one-year tenders. Neither Brown nor Smith elicited from their teams a stipulation precluding use of the franchise tag again in 2008.
Debate between the Bears and Briggs grew heated at times this spring, with the linebacker telling ESPN.com at one point that he would never play for the team again. He eventually softened that stance, but then adopted the position that he would not report until the 10th week, which would still permit him to gain a season toward the pension plan.
A former University of Arizona standout, Briggs was chosen by the Bears in the third round of the 2003 draft. He earned a starting job as a rookie, emerged by his third season as one of the NFL's top young weakside linebackers, and was chosen for the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.
In 64 games, Briggs, one of the game's best all-around weakside 'backers, has 441 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, six interceptions, 29 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and three recoveries.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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