The Chicago Bears closed the door on the career of one of the franchise’s most decorated linemen when center Olin Kreutz was not re-signed.
The Bears added unrestricted free agent Chris Spencer, agreeing to terms on a two-year contract, on Sunday in a move that left players and coaches alike stunned. Kreutz was given an ultimatum on Saturday – take a $4 million, one-year contract or not. The six-time Pro Bowl performer wanted $4.5 million. Neither side budged.
Spencer will be in a position to take over the starting job but he cannot begin practicing until Thursday. Right guard Roberto Garza has been playing center in practice. Kreutz started all 16 games 10 times in his career with the Bears. The third-round draft pick from 1998 had 183 career starts, trailing only Walter Payton (184) in franchise history.
Kreutz made it clear he wanted to return to the Bears and believes the club used that against him. He originally sought a multi-year contract. His last contract averaged $5.8 million annually and his pay last season was $3 million. He believed $4.5 million split the difference.
The Bears allowed more sacks than any other NFL team last season. They have added offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, the 29th pick in the draft, but line coach Mike Tice hasn’t had any offseason time to work with him. Now, the weakest area of the team got weaker.
“Spencer is a good football player,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “I cannot compare him to Olin.”
Like it or not, Spencer will be compared to Kreutz. We’ll find out if the $500,000 the Bears wanted to save comes back to haunt them.
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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune