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Bears Fri Sep 02 2011

Contract Standoff Continues for Briggs, Bears

lance briggs tribune.jpg

Lance Briggs before the 2011 NFC title game / Tribune photo: José M. Osorio

Linebacker Lance Briggs is the latest in a line of Bears who want their contracts restructured.

Briggs has three years left on his current contract. This season, Briggs will earn $3.65 million. In 2012, he is scheduled to earn $3.75 million and in his last year, $6.25 million.

He signed this contract back in 2008. And if Briggs' desires aren't accepted by the Bears, he says he will demand a trade. Briggs and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are hoping for a new contract that's equivalent to those bestowed on other highly paid linebackers throughout the league.

Briggs is a top-100 player and the 10th best linebacker in the league, according to an NFL.com feature, and he has been to the past six Pro Bowls, but he is No. 20 among the highest-paid linebackers.

Briggs' well-compensated peers include the Packers' A.J. Hawk ($10.95 million, including bonuses), the Steelers' Lawrence Timmons ($18 million, plus bonuses), the Jets' David Harris (four-years, $29.5 million guaranteed), and the Panthers' Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, who each received a five-year contract extension.

After six Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections, Briggs believes he ought to be paid more money. From his perspective, this makes sense, since he's 30 and he's in his prime. If Briggs believes he deserves better compensation, then this is the time to negotiate, since the window will narrow with each passing season.

Briggs, Rosenhaus, and Bears GM Jerry Angelo are not speaking to the press about the contract dispute. Word is Angelo is not happy about this situation, which is understandable given how contract negotiations have worked out during the off-season.

Contract negotiations with tight end Greg Olsen and longtime center Olin Kreutz fell apart at the start of training camp and sent each player packing to a new team. Some Bears fans are noticeably upset that these players are gone and this was particularly the case regarding Kreutz who had spent 13 seasons as a Bear.

Angelo is also in the midst of renegotiating a new contract with starting running back Matt Forte. Then there is the whole issue of whether the Bears will keep Chester Taylor, even though coach Lovie Smith and Angelo assured Taylor (and the media) that they are happy with him.

At any rate, Briggs isn't exactly new to contract negotiations. Back in 2007, Briggs made the mistake of publicly proclaiming that he would never play again for the Bears. Ultimately, he signed a one-year, $7.2 million contract with the Bears.

That year the Bears and the 49ers were in the middle of negotiating a trade, when the 49ers were found guilty of tampering with Briggs. For their punishment, the 49ers lost their fifth-round draft pick and had swap places with the Bears in the third round.

Then Briggs thought he was headed to the 49ers once he became a free agent only to sign again with the Bears for his current six-year, $36 million contract ($13 million guaranteed). With this renegotiated contract, Briggs received a $4 million signing bonus and $9 million in roster bonuses. Few people would argue that Briggs got a raw deal with the renegotiated contract.

As Mark Potash points out in the Sun-Times, if the Bears cut Briggs tomorrow, they wouldn't have to pay him the remaining $16 million on his contract. However, Briggs will have walked away with $13 million in bonuses.

In any long-term football contract, there is guaranteed bonus money. As Potash notes, if salaries were guaranteed, players would not receive bonus money. Bonus money insures that a player will receive sizable compensation even, if he gets cut.

Potash's stance is that Briggs should be happy with the money the Bears have given him; it isn't the team's fault Briggs' contract was restructured before other linebackers got bigger deals.

Briggs is like anyone else who believes that he is not compensated well enough for his output, but it's the employer who decides how much the employee is worth and can fire him if he doesn't feel the employee benefits the corporation. The NFL doesn't operate any differently in this regard.

Briggs does have at least one supporter who doesn't see his demands as selfish. CSN Chicago's John 'Moon' Mullin argues that no one complains when a NFL team cuts a veteran player while he's still on a contract. Mullin makes a good point, but he also reinforces a point that I just made: Like it or not, the employer decides the worth of the person (player) to the organization and is the one with the checkbook.

There is no doubt the Bears would like to get these contract disputes settled before their regular season begins a week from Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, but it's unlikely that this will happen.

 
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