Lance Briggs‘ season is over after the Bears placed him on injured reserve with a groin injury yesterday. With his contract up in March, many pundits have suggested that this will call to a close his career in Chicago, where he spent 12 years with the team.
Although it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will not be returning to the Bears in 2015, that does not mean the end of the road for Briggs altogether. Briggs has no plans to retire, and will test free agency this offseason, reports Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune (via Twitter).
Briggs’ 12 seasons with the Bears have placed him among the franchises all-time great defensive players. He missed only four games in his first ten years with the team, earning seven trips to the Pro Bowl during that time. He was also named All-Pro three times, in 2005, 2006, and 2009.
His 170 starts as a Bear puts him among the top five in franchise history, alongside such names as Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Olin Kreutz, and Brian Urlacher. He and Urlacher anchored a defense that was frequently among the best in the NFL.
Still, his play declined in his final years with the team, struggling with performance and with injuries after head coach Lovie Smith left town. He played in only eight games in 2013 and will finish 2014 only appearing in nine games.
Additionally, Briggs will turn 35 in 2015, and given his recent injury history, he may not be a hot commodity as a free agent. He also plays a non-premium position as a 4-3 outside linebacker, and those spots are often filled with younger talents and mid-round draft picks.
One obvious fit would be a reunion with his old coach Smith in Tampa Bay, where he could join a young defense headlined by stars Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy. Under Smith, there has been upheaval on the defense as the coach attempts to bring in his own talent, and it can be seen most notably as the secondary has roster turnover. Briggs could be a key in Smith implementing his scheme to the younger players.
Outside of the Buccaneers though, desire for the former Pro Bowl linebacker will most likely be limited, and he may be forced to sign for the veteran’s minimum if he is intent on continuing his NFL career.