CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears are parting ways with veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher after 13 years.
General manager Phil Emery said Wednesday that the team couldn't agree on a contract with Urlacher, for years the heart and face of the franchise. He is now a free agent after being slowed by a knee problem and then missing the last four games of the season with a hamstring injury.
"We were unable to reach an agreement with Brian and both sides have decided to move forward," Emery said in a statement. "Brian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade. He showed great leadership and helped develop a winning culture over his time with the Bears. We appreciate all he has given our team, on and off the field. Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears."
The 34-year-old Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowl player, started 180 games from 2000 through 2012, recording a team-record 1,779 tackles. The ninth overall selection in the 2000 draft has 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 16 fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles. He was the AP's defensive player of the year in 2005.
"Over the last 13 years Brian Urlacher has been an outstanding player, teammate, leader and face of our franchise," chairman George McCaskey said. "As Bears fans, we have been lucky to have such a humble superstar represent our city. He embodies the same characteristics displayed by the Bears all-time greats who played before him and he will eventually join many of them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We thank Brian for all he has given our team and our city. He will always be a part of the Bears family. We wish him the very best."
It's not clear what's next for Urlacher. He had said he wanted to return to the Bears and had posted pictures on Twitter in recent weeks indicating he was working his way back into shape, but whether he will latch on with another team remains to be seen.
His agents did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Last seaso, Urlacher sprained his medial collateral ligament and partially sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 2011 regular-season finale against Minnesota and hasn't been the same since then.
He barely participated in training camp, had an arthroscopic procedure in mid-August to relieve the swelling, and spent most of the season trying to regain his old form.
Then, he came up lame in coverage on the second-to-last snap of the Bears' overtime loss to Seattle in early December, an injury that ended his season and his tenure with the Bears.