LB FOR HIRE
After 13 years in Chicago, the middle linebacker failed to agree with the Bears on a new contract, putting the eight-time Pro Bowler on the free-agent market.
DAN PATRICK:First you break up with the Bears; then your alma mater, New Mexico, falls to Harvard in the NCAA tournament.
BRIAN URLACHER: Way to bring that up at the beginning. Man, that was tough.
DP:Did you have the Lobos winning?
BU: No, but I had them going pretty far.
DP:Since you've had time to digest this, do you feel any different about what happened with the Bears?
BU: It's gotta come to an end sometime. I just wish it hadn't ended the way it did.
DP:Did you expect it?
BU: I didn't think they wanted me back. There was no dialogue in the off-season between the team and my agents.... I kind of knew I was done when they fired [coach] Lovie [Smith].
DP:If you had agreed to their price—one year, $2 million—would you still be a Chicago Bear?
BU: For sure.
DP:Sounds weird calling you a former Bear.
BU: It is weird, isn't it? I still say we.
DP:Are you depressed about this?
BU: No. I'm disappointed. But I'm also excited. I get a chance to see what's out there. Maybe nobody wants me. But we're going to find out.
DP:Do you have to go to a 4--3?
BU: No, it doesn't matter to me. I think I could learn a 3--4. I don't know what the big deal is.
DP:Teams like Minnesota, Dallas and Arizona have been mentioned. How about Denver?
BU: My agents did talk to Minnesota. I think they talked to Dallas a little bit and Arizona a little bit early on. I don't think they talked to Denver. Are you throwing out a wish list for me?
DP:Which teams would be on your wish list?
BU: [Laughs.] How about Denver, Atlanta ... who else was good last year?
DP:What's the key for choosing your next team?
BU: I'm an old fart, so I want to go someplace I can win.
DP:So if the Packers made the best offer, you'd play for them?
BU: If I play for any team in the NFL, there's a possibility I'll have to play against the Bears, so yes, I guess I could—if it came down to it, I'd have to. Same with Minnesota.
DP:How many more years will you play?
BU: I'd like to say two. I finally feel good. Last off-season was so frustrating. This off-season I got to work out like normal. One or two ... maybe three. Maybe zero.
DP:One day when you go back to have your jersey retired in Chicago....
BU: [Interrupts.] What if I don't go back? [Laughs.] I don't know; that's a long time away. I really have no hard feelings toward [Bears owners] the McCaskeys. I understand it's a business. I had 13 great years in this city. I can't be mad.
DP:What do you think of the lowering-the-helmet rule?
BU: I like it. That's a little protection for the defense. All the other rules they set forth should be called offensive-player safety. It's not NFL player safety. We don't get protected. They can still take our knees out.
Former NFL running back Jerome Bettis ripped the new rule prohibiting ballcarriers from leading with the crown of their helmet. "It's going to cause a lot of tentativeness," Bettis told me. "More important, it's going to cause the next generation of kids to change the channel." ... Jim Boeheim questioned the timing of reports that the NCAA is investigating Syracuse for violations. "I don't know where that came from," the coach said. "Obviously this came out last year at this time. It will probably happen again next year." ... Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard believes the Heat's streak has made LeBron James & Co. a better team. "They're fully engaged," Le Batard told me. "They weren't before. They've stumbled into this thing that made them care about the regular season, because they want to do something Michael Jordan never did." ... I asked Michigan State coach Tom Izzo if he regrets turning down the Cavaliers' job in 2010. "Every time I see my wife's credit card [bill]," Izzo said, "I think the NBA's great. But [every coaching job has] problems. Even high school's got problems. They've got parents."