In the third round of this year’s draft the Bears selected a player – center Hroniss Grasu. If they get a fraction of what the last third-round No. 55 gave them over more than a decade, it will have been a sterling pick.
That No. 55 was Lance Briggs, the 2003 third-rounder and seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker. On Wednesday, Briggs announced his plans to retire and moving on to work as an analyst with Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s “Pre- and Post-game Live” broadcasts.
Selfishly, this is great news. Lance will join Dan Jiggetts and Jim Miller, giving us three very bright bulbs who know the Bears and the game, and with host Chris Boden, the ability to present the things that matter in ways that make sense both to the former player and to “civilians.” I’ll have the good fortune of joining the team from on-site with the Bears.
But these kinds of moments also come with a spot of sadness, regardless of how inevitable they are. Lance’s last couple of years were ones of injury and decline, but that doesn’t fog the view of what Lance Briggs was, and that was simply one of the great linebackers in the history of a team with a history of great linebackers.
Briggs was sometime overshadowed by the presence and play of Brian Urlacher. That was too bad. While the characterization of Briggs as “Robin” to Urlacher’s “Batman” may have been cute, it slighted a player peers knew well how really special Briggs was.
He was a designer weakside linebacker in Lovie Smith’s scheme, and it’s easy to forget that Briggs won the starting job as the strongside linebacker as a rookie, in an entirely different (two-gap) scheme under then-coordinator Greg Blache. He was stout enough to finish fourth on the team in tackles (81) despite not starting until Week 4.
What wasn’t lost on the incoming Lovie Smith staff was that Briggs could cover. He had at least one interception in 10 of his 12 seasons, and his talent was such that Smith eventually left both Briggs and Urlacher on the field in “dime” packages. Smith matter-of-factly that Briggs was a better pass defender than his fourth cornerback or safety.
Briggs, 34, was open to continuing playing but no offers materialized this offseason. He was willing to consider a role in the new 3-4 defense under John Fox but the Bears were not in the market.