LAKE FOREST, Ill. (Feb. 15, 2007) -- In an attempt to keep together their Super Bowl defense, the Chicago Bears designated linebacker Lance Briggs their franchise player.
Briggs would have become an unrestricted free agent March 2 if he didn't reach a contract agreement with the Bears before then. The franchise tag means Chicago can keep Briggs by matching any offer sheet he might sign with another team.
If they choose not to match another offer, the Bears would get the other team's first-round draft picks in 2007 and 2008 as compensation.
The Bears must pay Briggs $7.2 million for 2007, the average of the top five salaries at his position.
Neither the Bears nor Briggs' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, wanted to comment on the move.
Before the Super Bowl, Briggs had talked optimistically about getting a chance to enter the open market.
"You play four years as a third-round draft pick and you have your opportunity to get big pay for your work," Briggs said. "You definitely want to see what your worth is."
Briggs made $721,600 last year in the final season of his first NFL contract. Negotiations on a contract extension broke down last spring, and reports indicate Briggs rejected a six-year offer of more than $30 million.
Briggs made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons. The 2003 third-round draft pick from Arizona led the Bears with 117 solo tackles last year, 24 more than six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher.
"Lance is one of the cornerstones of our defense," coach Lovie Smith said. "Everything we have asked him to do, he has done and he has developed each year. A lot of the success we've had (on defense) has been based on how Lance has played."
The Bears still could lose two other key players to free agency, Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown and defensive tackle Ian Scott. Scott was a part-time starter last year after a season-ending hamstring injury to starter Tommie Harris.