Lance Briggs Could Be A Nice Addition to the Bengals
Sep 7, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs (55) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
A legendary name will be hitting the market this year when free agency opens in March. Bears all-time great linebacker Lance Briggs will likely be moving on from the only team he’s ever known in his 12 NFL seasons. It was a plan that Briggs has accepted for some time.
Now that there’s a new regime in Chicago, there is a chance that John Fox offers Lance Briggs the opportunity to return. One must assume that if the offer is extended to Briggs, he’d likely return to the Bears, but new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, formerly the DC for the 49ers, is expected to transition the Bears to a 3-4 defense. Although Briggs has expressed a willingness to play within the new system, these types of transitions often come with a significant change of personnel making Briggs return questionable at best.
If in fact the Bears’ new regime chooses to start from scratch rather than bring back veterans who’ve never played within the 3-4 defense for any significant amount of time, Lance Briggs will be forced to test the market as he has yet to express any consideration of retirement.
When he hits the open market, the Bengals may want to give the potential future Hall of Famer a long look.
Bringing Lance Briggs to the Queen City would be a wise decision for several reasons. First, and maybe most importantly, the Bengals have struggled to find effective linebackers in recent years outside of Vontaze Burfict. Sure the team benefits from Rey Maualuga‘s presence against the run, but he was involved in only 39.5% of defensive snaps this past year and though Maualuga missed four games, the number was likely pretty accurate considering he received extra snaps due to Burfict’s absence due to several injuries of his own.
More than this, Lance Briggs is primarily a coverage WILL linebacker, which means he would fit well with the Bengals who primarily employ the nickel set. His presence would allow Vontaze Burfict to focus less on coverage and more on making plays while roaming the field, much like Briggs’ former teammate Brian Urlacher.
Vontaze Burfict’s consideration within this discussion brings us to the next vital reason for a presence like Briggs. Although both the Bengals and Burfict’s surgeon expect Burfict to return to his former self in 2015 following microfracture surgery, it’s hardly a given. Microfracture surgery is serious and takes time to heal. There’s a lot of rehab and then there’s the mental aspect of it, which requires a player to overcome himself and trust his knee rather than favor it. Burfict’s prognosis look optimistic, but he and the Bengals are hardly “out of the woods.”
Burfict is the “quarterback” of the Bengals’ defense and his absence really hurt the team last year. Here’s defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s take on Burfict with respect to 2014 and ’15.
"“Going from what I have been told he’ll be fine for next year. I hope that’s the case because we certainly need him. Going into the year, I can’t reiterate this enough, it’s like losing your starting quarterback, it really is. He gets us in and out of calls, he makes the front’s calls, the moves, all those things that goes on throughout the course of a game. He thinks exactly how I’m thinking most of the time. When you have a guy like that on the field for you, you sleep well at night on Saturday night. Hopefully he can come back and play like he’s played in the past.”"
Losing this leadership presence was a huge deal. The Bengals struggled to find a player to fill this void as Emmanuel Lamur struggled in the role while Rey Maualuga, though more capable than any other linebacker, isn’t on the field nearly enough.
Lance Briggs’ knowledge of the game and his leadership ability can’t be questioned. He’s been an integral part of some of the league’s best defenses in the past, and this doesn’t simply have to do with his athletic ability. Briggs would bring this leadership and knowledge to the Bengals. He’d be a great contingency plan in case Burfict isn’t ready and misses time. It’s something the Bengals could’ve sorely used in 2014.
It’s this leadership and knowledge that also would benefit the Bengals in another way. The Bengals currently possess several young linebackers who would benefit from a presence like Briggs; they will likely draft a linebacker or two this year also, adding even more youth to the position. Most notably would be Emmanuel Lamur and Marquis Flowers; Lamur is a restricted free agent this year, but his retention is highly likely. Both possess skills that make them a perfect fit as coverage linebackers like Briggs. Flowers is heading into his second season and has much to learn if he’s going to develop as a player. Lamur struggled in his first season as a full-time starter, especially when taking on the added responsibility when Burfict was out.
Briggs’ presence would ensure these young players have a great role model to learn from. The Bengals have employed this plan in 2013 when they signed James Harrison; someone they should’ve retained this past season also. In 2015, the Bengals should employ this plan once more and bring in Lance Briggs.
The Bengals have enjoyed success with veterans in the past, so the concept wouldn’t be foreign to them in this way. Cornerback Terence Newman found a bit of the “fountain of youth” with them, giving the Bengals solid seasons these past three years. Adam Jones has given the Bengals several excellent years. James Harrison enjoyed some success even when playing only limited snaps. Lance Briggs could be the next veteran to find success in the Queen City.
Lance Briggs does come with one potential “red flag” though. In recent years, Briggs has suffered a few injuries causing him to veer away from his highly durable self. These injuries include a shoulder injury in 2013 that caused him to miss seven games, a rib injury which cost him 2014’s Weeks 6-8, and a groin injury which ended this past season for him following Week 12.
These injuries are no doubt concerning, but Briggs feels these injuries were “freak injuries.” Regardless of whether they were or not, the Bengals wouldn’t be asking Briggs to play 87% of their snaps, something he was on pace to do in 2014: Briggs played 453 snaps in eight games meaning he was on pace for 906 snaps (906/1042 (Bears total defensive snaps) = 86.9%). Briggs’ injuries these past couple years shouldn’t dissuade the Bengals from pursuing him.
Lance Briggs’ leadership, knowledge, and Hall of Fame ability should entice the Bengals to give him strong consideration come March. He would bring stability and a veteran presence to a very young group of players within the linebacker room. He’d give the Bengals some insurance against Vontaze Burfict’s return in 2015 and, most importantly to the Bengals who will be re-sign some key players in coming years, Briggs would likely come cheap and on a short-term deal, something that should appeal to the Bengals’ front office. Considering Briggs only makes sense for the 2015 Bengals.
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