With smile, Briggs says he still wants new deal

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(Eds: With AP Photos.)By ANDREW SELIGMANAP Sports Writer

Lance Briggs made it clear he still wants a new deal from the Chicago Bears, only this time he did it with a smile.

The Pro Bowl linebacker had some fun when he was asked Thursday about his request to renegotiate his contract at the start of the season, turning a microphone toward a reporter and grinning as he looked into the TV cameras.

''Could you repeat that question?'' Briggs asked. ''I didn't catch the question. I believe (it was) that, `You said that earlier in the year you mentioned contract issues and you decided to put that under the rug and forget about that.'' It seemed to enhance my play this year. Do I hope the Bears get the message going into the offseason?' I'm going to leave that as no comment.''

Briggs' response said plenty. He continues to make loud statements on the field, too.

He's in select company after becoming just the fourth linebacker in franchise history to make seven straight Pro Bowls this week, joining Hall of Famers Dick Butkus, Bill George and Mike Singletary. Briggs leads the team with 140 tackles and is tied for the club lead with eight tackles for losses and has an interception and two forced fumbles heading into the season-finale at Minnesota on Sunday.

''Who knows how long I'll play or anybody else on the team is going to play, but the one thing that will always be here are those guys who were all stars and played well,'' Briggs said. ''The linebacker legacy in Chicago, I think I'll be a part of it.''

There's a good chance Briggs or his agent will mention all that to the Bears (7-8) at some point. Whether management will listen is another issue.

With three years left on a six-year, $36 million contract, general manager Jerry Angelo basically told Briggs to leave him alone when the linebacker asked for permission to seek a trade if he couldn't get a renegotiated deal before the season.

He wound up having another big year for a team that was looking like a playoff lock at 7-3. Instead, the Bears collapsed in a big way and will look to stop a five-game losing streak this week.

Injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and then running back Matt Forte decimated the offense and helped knock Chicago out of contention after it reached the NFC championship game a year ago.

Caleb Hanie's struggles filling in for Cutler and some key mistakes by Marion Barber also went a long way toward spoiling this season, with backup receiver Sam Hurd's arrest on federal drug charges casting a big cloud over it.

The defense played well enough in losses to Oakland, Kansas City and Denver, but the Bears allowed 38 points to Seattle and 35 to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers the past two games.

Now, a promising season is ending with a whimper.

''We feel like we have the talent to do it and the players to do it,'' said Brian Urlacher, who just made his eighth Pro Bowl. ''I think we've shown that. We have all the talent we need to get where we need to go, we've just got to put it together and do it.''

Changes figure to be in store for the Bears, but Briggs insisted an overhaul isn't necessary.

''It's not going to solve anything if you get rid of all the folks who put this team together,'' he said. ''This year was unfortunate for us all and even though we didn't get in the playoffs, we are a championship-caliber team and we'll get there.''

He believes the Bears have another run in them, that the window isn't shut. Even so, there's a sense that time could start winding down. Core defensive players such as Briggs, Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman are all in their 30s, although they are playing well. Tillman just made his first Pro Bowl. Urlacher got picked for the eighth time, and he and Briggs remain one of the league's most formidable pairs at linebacker.

''You know, that's the most frustrating thing about seasons like this, and last year, being that close,'' Briggs said. ''It's that we know we're a good enough team to get there. We were really hoping that we could get into the playoffs and get Cutler and Forte back, but we didn't get it done. So we're going to have to reload, evaluate this season after we play and beat the Vikings, evaluate this season and back to the drawing board and take another shot at it next year.''

Tagged: Bears, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Jay Cutler

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