Bears' Briggs offers no explanation for change of heart
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — There were no immediate answers from Lance Briggs, no explanations for a change of heart that led him to show up at training camp instead of staging a prolonged holdout.
The Chicago Bears' Pro Bowl linebacker pulled up to the dining hall at Olivet Nazarene University on his bicycle Sunday afternoon, hopped off and told reporters, "Love y'all, love y'all." Then, he waved and said, "I miss y'all" as he walked inside.
He didn't have much to say after lunch, either, other than "I'm happy to be here" as he pedaled away. And he was just as short after practice.
Upset that the Bears slapped the franchise tag on him, Briggs had threatened to sit out the entire season. Then, he reduced it to 10 games. The drama ended Wednesday when he agreed to the one-year, $7.2 million franchise tender contract, and he practiced on Sunday.
When the session ended in the evening, Briggs told reporters "I gotta get to the fans" as he trotted toward the side. He gave a few short answers such as "It's a business" and "I've said enough" while signing autographs, but Briggs did not acknowledge a question about his relationship with general manager Jerry Angelo. Nor did he respond when asked when he changed his mind about holding out.
The Bears simply seemed relieved to have the issue resolved.
"As much of a man of principle as he is, he said, 'Jerry, I just couldn't see not being with the team at the start of camp,'" said Angelo, who met with Briggs after the linebacker arrived Saturday night. "He told me about how much he's looking forward to being part of the team and taking that next step."
And his teammates welcomed him back.
"I would have wanted to skip training camp," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer joked. "I'm glad. I think that's a testament to Lance. He knows how important it is getting back, getting into the groove with your teammates. I was just glad to see it resolved."
So is linebacker Brian Urlacher.
"I'm excited," he said. "Lance is my buddy he's a great football player. I'm glad all that nonsense off the field is over."
The drama escalated after the Bears applied the franchise tag.
That label made it difficult for Briggs to market himself to other teams because the Bears would have received two first-round draft picks if they decided not to match an offer he received. Briggs told them to remove the tag or trade him. There were talks with the Washington Redskins, but they went nowhere.
The linebacker also threatened to sit out the entire season in interviews with several media outlets. He then altered his stance, saying he would miss the first 10 games and report for the final six to qualify as serving one year as a franchise player.
Either way, a holdout would have been costly.
Briggs got about a tenfold raise after earning $721,600 in the final year of his first NFL contract. And he got a vow from the team to not apply the franchise tag in 2008 and give the linebacker a $1 million advance, agent Drew Rosenhaus said.
Angelo said the franchise tag was "to reward" Briggs and that there are "absolutely no hard feelings."
"He's had a lot of time to lament his situation, and it's not a bad situation," Angelo said. "We've rewarded him with a very handsome contract."
A third-round draft pick from Arizona in 2003, Briggs has excelled in the Bears' cover-2 scheme.
He reportedly rejected a six-year, $33 million offer before the 2006 season, then earned his second straight Pro Bowl selection. He finished second on the team with a career-high 176 tackles to help the Bears reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years.
Then, there was turmoil.
Besides the contentious negotiations with Briggs, the team released defensive tackle Tank Johnson after a string of run-ins with the law. Running back Thomas Jones got traded to clear the way for Cedric Benson. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris and safety Mike Brown are coming back from season-ending injuries, and defensive end Alex Brown is competing for a starting spot with Mark Anderson after asking for a trade.
But one major issue was resolved when Briggs ended his holdout.
"It's a tough situation when a player wants one thing and the team wants something else," Hillenmeyer said. "If there's a disagreement there, there's a disagreement there. ... It's in the past."