On the heals of the Kruetz departure, there is a lot of media coverage being given to Lance Briggs who is reportedly looking to renegotiate his contract. In Kruetz case, he was simply negotiating a new contract and didn't come to terms. In Briggs case, he wants a new contract although he is currently under contract through 2013. Most of the information forthcoming on Briggs is not coming directly from Briggs--so just how serious an issue it is, is unknown.
One way to look at player's value is to look at rankings. I do not know all of what goes into these, but I believe they represent some kind of discipline and perhaps they cross validate themselves in some way.
ESPN's Linebacker rankings:
1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers
2. James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
3. DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
4. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
5. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
6. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
7. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
8. LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers
9-10. Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
9-10. Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers
13. Lance Briggs, Chicago Bears
1. Patrick Willis, SF
2. Lawrence Timmons, PIT
3. Jerod Mayo, NE
4. Paul Posluszny, BUF
5. Jon Beason, CAR
6. Ray Lewis, BAL
7. Brian Urlacher, CHI
8. Chad Greenway, MIN
9. James Laurinaitis, STL
10. D.J. Williams, DEN
22. Lance Briggs, CHI
NFL.Com Fantasy Football Rankings
1. Patrick Willis, SF
2. Jon Beason, CAR
3. Jerod Mayo, NE
4. James Laurinaitis, STL
5. Lawrence Timmons, PIT
6. Paul Posluszny, BUF
7. DeMeco Ryans, HOU
8. Stephen Tulloch, TEN
9. Ray Lewis, BAL
10. Curtis Lofton,ATL
20. Lance Briggs, CHI
Valuing a Linebacker is Complicated
There are two basic types of linebackers (middle and outside) and other variations on those (strong and weak side). Much of how the linebacker plays his position also depends upon the defensive formations. In some defenses a certain type of player may be more valuable than others.
There are many other contributing factors as well-- a big one is the other defensive players around the player. A strong defensive line with a powerful pass rush might give a linebacker more opportunities.
A very poor offense will impact how the defense plays--how long they are on the field and the number of tackles that need to be made, etc. A very good offense that grinds the time out with a strong running game will mean less time on the field for the defense. A very good passing offense that moves down the field quickly may provide more time on the field for the defense.
The middle linebacker generally gets the most attention of the linebackers and is considered the most highly skilled linebacker position. The middle linebacker is also considered to be the defensive quarterback who directs the defense on the field. Fans are familiar with Brian Urlacher waving and shouting directions.
Brian Urlacher plays the middle for the Bears and has received more attention than Lance Briggs. However, the Bears defense historically gets a lot of attention in Chicago, Briggs has many fans. I'd have to think that Briggs is one of the most well-known Bears, at least to Bear fans. Many articles have been written singing the praises of the "unsung" hero Briggs, which makes me wonder if the reporters who write these things read anything other than what they themselves write.
Briggs is an outside linebacker--he is 30 years old and a 9 year veteran. He's made the Pro Bowl 6 times. He is not rated particularly high in the above rankings and he is ranked 92 on the NFL's Top 100 List voted by his peers. But the Pro Bowls are significant and Briggs was listed on a couple different top five outside linebacker lists that followed the 2009 season in which Urlacher was hurt and Peppers had not come to Chicago yet. Now on a defense that includes Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher, there has to be a bigger dispersion of attention. Someone coming into Chicago to play may be impressed by any number of defensive stars today.
Bear Thoughts on Briggs
Many believe that Briggs has not slowed down and continues to be one of the best run defenders. He is known as a hard physical hitter. Not only do Bear players give Briggs high marks, but the coaches have called him underrated and as good as it gets at his position. He had 89 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions in 2010. Statistically, it was not one of his best years, but with Urlacher healthy and rested, and Julius Peppers fetching 54 tackles, it's understandable. Briggs stepped up big when Urlacher was out in 2009 and had 118 tackles.
Football contracts are complicated and there could be some contract provisions that change the numbers here. We don't actually know what Briggs or the other players discussed actually took to the bank. According to Spotrac (http://www.spotrac.com) when Briggs originally signed with the Bears in 2003, he signed a 4-year $2.06 Million deal. Briggs was a third-round draft pick and that may have made a big difference in money.
In 2007 Briggs signed a 1 year $7.206 million franchise tag deal according to Spotrac. Briggs current 6-year contract signed in 2008 runs through 2013 and pays him an average of $6 Million a year. In 2008, his base salary was $805,000 with a $666,667 signing bonus and a miscellaneous $4 Million bonus. In 2009, his base salary was $3.145 Million with a $666,667 signing bonus and a miscellaneous $5,000,000 bonus. In 2010, his base salary was $1.1 Million with a $666,667 signing bonus and a miscellaneous $5 Million bonus. This year his base salary is $3.65 Million with a $666,667 signing bonus and a miscellaneous $250,000 bonus. In 2012, his existing contract calls for a base salary was $3.75 Million with a $666,667 signing bonus and a miscellaneous $250,000 bonus. The last year of his existing contract calls for a base salary of $6.25 Million with a $666,667 signing bonus and a miscellaneous $250,000 bonus. There is some suggestion in the media that Briggs would like the Bears to swap his 2013 base of $6.25 Million with this year's $3.65 Million.
Assuming the bonus money worked out and the numbers are accurate, Briggs has been paid $35,632,668. If Briggs could fulfill his obligations under the existing contract, he would be paid another $11,833,334 for the two-year term. Thus, if nothing changed, Briggs would have made $47,466,002 during his years with Bears through 2013.
There is some pretty big money going towards linebackers these days, but most of it appears to be on the new young guys in their mid-20s.
Young Guys at the Top of the Their Game
Patrick Willis (age 26) who many people feel is the top linebacker, signed a 7-year $53.51 million extension with San Francisco that pays him on average $7,644,286 a year.
Lawrence Timmons (age 25) signed a 6 year $50 million extension with Pittsburgh that pays him on average $8,333,333.
Jon Beason (age 26) just signed a 5 year $50 million extension with Carolina that pays him an average of $8,556,333 front-loaded with a $20 Million signing bonus.
Barrett Rudd (age 28--former second round draft pick) signed a 1-year deal with the Tennessee Titans for $5 Million. Rudd played for Tampa last year and had 118 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception.
Derrick Johnson (age 28--former first round draft pick) signed a 6 year $36.475 million contract with Kansas City in 2010 that pays him an average of $6,079,167.
Terrell Suggs (age 28) Signed a 6 year $62.5 million contract with Baltimore in 2009 that pays him $10,416,667 on average. In 2010, he had 68 tackles, 11 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and no interceptions.
Ray Lewis (age 36) Signed a 3 year $22 million contract with Baltimore that pays him an average of $7,333,333 a year with a club option to continue each year through 2015. Lewis had 139 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions in 2010.
James Harrison (age 33) signed a 6 year $51.75 million extension with Pittsburgh in 2009 that pays him an average of $8,625,000. In 2010, Harrison had 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions.
Chad Greenway (age 26-former first round draft pick) signed a 1-year $10.091 million franchise tag deal with Minnesota. He had 144 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and no interceptions.
Briggs and the Bears
It might be difficult for the Bears to deal with the Briggs request. It looks like they want to focus on Matt Forte for right now. In the Bears case and in every case, there is a market value for each player. While there are some young players signing larger contracts than Briggs who have not proven their worth over the long haul, the veteran contracts vary quite a bit. The bottom line is that in terms of value, there is no clear cut objective answer. Strictly speaking from a market value proposition, I don't think Briggs has a strong case for a raise based on other salaries offered to comparable players because it's almost impossible to say who those comparable players might be.
In terms of value to the Bears team, i.e., what they lose when Briggs is not playing, there appears to be a big drop-off when he is off the field. That may be due to lack of experience and development of other players, or it could be a drop down in talent. In any case, the Bears look to be a far different team defensively when Briggs is not on the field in my opinion. If the Bears want to make Briggs happy this year by changing the existing contract by front-loading $3 Million more that is written into the contract for a later payday, that may not be a bad move if it works to stabilize the team.
On the other hand, whether Briggs would be happy with that single move or not, is another question. I think the situation is one that is not likely to be settled quickly or easily because I believe that once a formal offer is made, there is the counter-offer and on and on. In today's economy, when huge sums are being batted around by players, I think the press at least seems to be looking at the owners side of things and some of the coverage seems a little more balanced than it would be in past.
This one could go down to the wire, like the Kruetz situation, where both parties just get tired of negotiating. Hopefully, if intense negotiation goes on, it will happen after this season when the Bears win the Super Bowl--I think we need Briggs for that.
In the near future, I think the Bears will be drafting a first round linebacker. I don't think they wanted to make it a priority this year (offensive line needs and lack of draft picks) and it also made sense to keep Briggs and Urlacher on an even keel. There seems to be great chemistry between the two veterans. I think things will change when another top gun is brought into camp.
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