Lance Briggs was so sure he'd become a 49er in 2008, he and then-rookie Patrick Willis talked about playing next to one another at the 2008 Pro Bowl. Back in those days, Briggs was so upset about the Bears that he vowed he would never play in Chicago again. The team that was the strongest suitor for the Sacramento native? The 49ers. Briggs made it clear on a conference call this morning that he thought a trade was imminent.
"Yeah, I thought it was a done deal," Briggs said. "I thought when the trade was offered (in 2007) I didn't think I'd be back in a Chicago Bears uniform. The way things worked out, they just worked out I was able to come back."
Given the trade talks, were you surprised when the Bears levied tampering charges against the 49ers?
"I was. I didn't see any of that stuff coming. You know, when I was questioned there was nothing that I could say to help anyone because I had no idea about it. Whatever information they said they had, that's what the NFL decided and, you know, I'll leave it at that."
What was your understanding of why charges were levied if there were already trade talks going on?
"I'm not sure. I really didn't get into it. I was more focused on free agency at the time and the 49ers kind of pulling out on me at the last minute and trying to find out what's going to happen. And for me, my whole focus was on other things."
What do you mean when you say the 49ers "pulled out on you?"
"Like I said, the 49ers was the team that I believed I was going to be going to. And I think a lot of people around the league figured that's the team I was going to go to. And I got a call from my agent right before free agency, saying it's probably not going to happen and that we're going to have to go elsewhere. So I started to look at New Orleans - that was the next squad that I was going to take a trip to. Then I see it scrolling at the bottom (one the television): "New Orleans trades for Jonathan Vilma." And that kind of puts me back in the race, puts the Chicago Bears back in the picture. ... It was a domino effect."
Why did you think the 49ers were going to be your next team?
"Because I was more heavily pursued by them than any other organization."
At the trade deadline?
"Right. The trade deadline. You know, and with free agency coming around. That was what all the analysts said. Plus my agent said, 'Hey, you're going to be a Niner.'"
Were you privy to what the trade offer was?
"It was a first-round pick. It was a first-round pick - straight up, a first-round pick. And to me, that's quite an honor to have. To have a team willing to trade you for a first rounder."
Did you have the terms of the deal set up?
"I don't know. All I know is that ... No, I'm not sure about that. I just know that that was the offer."
Would that have been a dream come true for you?
"It would have been great. I mean, it would have been nice to play next to Patrick. We set up a talk with each other at the Pro Bowl and we talked about that a little bit, that we were excited to get a chance to play with each other. But that's life. Life works in mysterious ways. I'm back here with all my boys, and we just have to move on."
Are you bitter at the 49ers?
"No. I don't hold grudges. I was a little upset at the time, but all in all I'm happy with how things worked out."
So why were the 49ers ultimately docked a fifth-round pick and forced to switch third rounders with the Bears? Just because teams are discussing a trade doesn't allow a team to start negotiating with a player's agent, which is what the league ultimately ruled the 49ers did. The Bears also likely were irked that the 49ers were on the verge of a trade and pulled out at the last minute, thus placing them in the driver's seat for signing Briggs as a free agent. That would have left the Bears without Briggs and without any compensation ...
-- Matt Barrows