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BOURBONNAIS – Once reality settled in, anger started to emerge.
Bears players on both sides of the ball had spoken forcefully throughout the weekend about the importance of re-signing Olin Kreutz, a 13-year veteran and a co-captain of the offense.
They used words such as “respected” and “irreplaceable” and “leader.”
On Sunday evening, after players learned that Bears’ management had decided not to re-sign Kreutz after contract negotiations broke down, another word came to the forefront.
Bears safety Chris Harris used his caps lock key to emphasize the word via Twitter.
“All I can say is wow when it comes to Olin Kreutz … REALLY?!?!??!?!” Harris wrote.
Kreutz’s tenure with the Bears officially came to an end after general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith announced that the team would move on without him. The Bears signed ex-Seattle Seahawks center Chris Spencer to a two-year deal as Kreutz’s probable replacement.
Angelo said the Bears and Kreutz were $500,000 apart on a one-year contract offer when negotiations stalled. The team’s salary cap this season is more than $120 million.
“It goes beyond that,” Angelo said. “There’s more to it than just the dollar sign.”
Try explaining that to teammates who followed Kreutz’s lead in the huddle and in the locker room.
Bears guard Roberto Garza said Kreutz’s value to the team was immeasurable.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Garza said. “He stands for what a Chicago Bear is.
“Tough, hard-nosed football player. He made his teammates better.”
One of those teammates was Frank Omiyale, who played with Kreutz for the past two seasons.
When Omiyale struggled in his first season with the Bears, Kreutz stepped to his defense.
Gradually, Omiyale gained confidence and became the team’s starting left tackle in 2010.
“He was easy to follow,” Omiyale said. “He was always the one out front, always the one in the weight room. If you had any question [about] what you needed to do to get ready, all you had to do was check and see where he was at.”
Kreutz joined the Bears as a third-round draft pick out of Washington in 1998 and played in 191 games, which tied him with Steve McMichael for second-most in franchise history. He started every one of his final 134 regular season games with the Bears and 155 of his final 156 games, including the playoffs.
Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams saluted Kreutz’s longevity on his Twitter page.
“The only guy I know who would play with a broken bone or multiple broken bones,” Adams wrote.
Harris vented via Twitter for a while longer, presumably from his dorm room at ONU.
“Olin Kreutz’s depature [sic] won’t sit well in the locker room for a few days #realtalk,” Harris wrote.
Adams wasn’t finished, either.
“Nothing will be the same without him, practice, meetings, lifting, away trips, etc…” Adams wrote.
Angelo said he and the Bears’ coaches had to make the best decision for the team. He thanked Kreutz before expressing excitement about Spencer (6-3, 309), a 29-year-old Mississippi native who started 70 games in six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.
“They didn’t hire me to be loved,” Angelo said. “They hired me to make decisions based on what’s in the best interests of the team. That’s what it’s about, people.
“Come on, this isn’t a wake. We’re sad, but nobody died.
“We wish [Kreutz] the best. He had a great career.”
Three days ago, Smith was among those who had praised Kreutz and emphasized his importance to the team in general and to the offensive line in particular.
By Sunday, however, Smith showed no emotion as he announced the Bears’ decision.
“Everyone knows what Olin Kreutz has done for us in the past, and that’s quite a bit,” Smith said. “But this is a new year. We’re going in this direction, and we have a good football team.”
At least for the short term, Smith also has an angry football team.