POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 24, 2011
“I think Olin knows that he’s wanted. It’s not really even a question.” — Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, Feb. 25
If there is one guy who could be sitting back and savoring what this ridiculous NFL lockout has wrought, it should be Bears center Olin Kreutz.
Right about now Kreutz, were he so inclined, could be reclining instead of sweating through his own grueling workouts. He could be propping up the limbs that have weathered 13 pro football seasons and, with his accountant doing the math, be rubbing his meaty hands in anticipation of the moolah likely to eventually come his way.
The Bears professed enduring love for their unrestricted free agent and six-time Pro Bowl center before the lockout began and now, with each passing day without a resolution, the Saint Louis School graduate’s value mounts.
That’s because Chicago knows that without the stability and leadership Kreutz provided last year, the Bears not only wouldn’t have gone to the NFC Championship game, they probably wouldn’t have seen the playoffs.
And good luck making them this year — even if there is a season — without Kreutz.
Through 134 consecutive starts — the most of any Bear since Walter Payton, whose total (184) he will match with one more start — Kreutz has long been a pillar of the team. But never more so than in 2010, when the rest of the Bears’ offensive line was such a train wreck that they moved guards and tackles around like so many board-game pieces.
The one constant in the whole mad scramble — and the figure whose force of personality and lead-by-example presence helped solidify things from a 4-3 start to 12-6 finish — was Kreutz.
Even if the Bears wanted to sign someone on the free-agent market to replace him, assuming they could find somebody approaching Kreutz’s ability, there can be no negotiation until the lockout ends.
And with offseason workouts canceled until the lockout is lifted, the amount of valuable precamp training time is dwindling by the week. Hardly the best of conditions for the Bears, who already have rookies they plan to try and work in elsewhere along the offensive line.
Meanwhile, Kreutz, who has missed but one game — for a 2002 appendectomy — in 10 seasons is in an unaccustomed holding pattern due to the lockout. “At first I was watching it on the news trying to stay up with it, but now it just seems like there’s no end to it,” Kreutz says.
Yet, for him, there is one on the horizon. The plan, he says, is to look at things “year by year” from here on out. “I would say three or four years, but you don’t know how you are going to feel after this year is over,” Kreutz said.
The best thing the Bears have going for them when the Kreutz sweepstakes kick off might be their center’s steadfast loyalty. He turned down a more lucrative offer from Miami to return to Chicago in 2002, leaving a reported $3 million on the table.
“I think anybody who knows me knows I’ve always chosen to stay here (in Chicago) as long as everything was fair and even,” Kreutz said.
Be assured this time it will be in the Bears’ best interests to offer both.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.