On the first day of Bears
training camp at Olivet Nazarene University last month, I bumped into Lance Briggs
outside a dorm and playfully put up my dukes.
We kidded about his offseason boxing regimen in Arizona but both of us knew that day there was a different kind of fight for which he was bracing.
A fight Briggs never really thought he could win. He picked it anyway.
Briggs realized he has zero leverage asking the Bears for a raise. General manager Jerry Angelo
essentially told Briggs he has three years left on his deal so shut up and play, and the linebacker will. Next February perhaps Angelo will call Briggs' bluff and be more inclined to trade a 31-year-old linebacker for a third-round draft pick from a team willing to pay Briggs. But two weeks before the season-opener he understandably was in no mood to ponder the future of a player who already has won the football lottery.
Briggs has even less public support. Bears fans priced out of games in this economy can't relate to someone making $3.65 million playing football wanting more money. Who else wished the Bears could just give Briggs a new Lamborghini to see if that would suffice?
No dummy, Briggs expected both adverse reactions. But I think Briggs turned up the volume on his contract battle anyway because, to him, the fight involved much more than just another pro athlete feeling underpaid. He brought attention to a potentially deeper issue not as easy to ignore for management.
Fair or not, Briggs believes he represented a growing number of teammates unhappy with the way the Bears organization deals with players. To hear some insiders other than Briggs describe morale at various times this preseason, the Bears could become the first NFL
team to use the Disenfranchised Tag for players.
It really doesn't matter if it's true. If players go to Halas Hall every day believing they are unappreciated then inevitably, eventually, it affects them. A player thinking about his contract is more prone to mental lapses. They're not football robots.
A new phenomenon, this isn't. From at least the playing days of Mike Ditka
to the '85 Bears through the Urlacher Era, standout Bears players have groused about the front office. The connection between complaining and winning or losing depends on the source and the season. But in the context of 2011 as the Bears try to repeat as NFC North
champions, Briggs' gripes at least are worth noting for a team that traditionally doesn't handle success well.