According to the Sun-Times, the Bears have informed safety Mike Brown that he will not receive a contract offer and the team will part ways with the 9-year pro.

There was a time in Chicago when Brown was revered by Bears fans almost as much as Brian Urlacher was. Cherished because of his back-to-back, game-winning interception returns for touchdowns in overtime periods against San Francisco and Cleveland in 2001, Brown was often elevated to a higher standard than maybe he should have been.

However, in 2004, in a victory over the Packers, Brown tore his right Achilles’ tendon and missed the final 14 games of the season. That began a 5-year stretch in which Brown could not complete a full season healthy. In 2005, he played in the first 12 games of the season, in ’06 he played in just 6 games, two years ago he was hurt in the season-opener against the Chargers and missed the last 15 games of the year, and last year he almost made it through the full season but missed the final game.

Clinging onto the past, myself included albeit to a lesser extent, Bears fans felt that if only Brown could stay healthy, he’d solidify the safety position and make the defense that much better.

Last year, we learned different. What we witnessed when Brown played almost a full season was that the game has passed him by. No longer could he rely upon his football smarts and speed to put him in the right position on every play. He was a step — or more — slower than the competition, perhaps best illustrated in a Week 7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Adrian Peterson had broken free into the secondary and Brown was doing a good job of keeping Peterson in front of him and channeling him toward the sideline. However, one quick cut later toward the middle of the field and Peterson was by Brown on his way toward the end zone. Brown was frozen in his tracks as he could not swivel his hips and continue the pursuit.

Although Peterson has freakish speed, it was a clear signal of the end of an era. And although it was never official until now, in my mind the era was over somewhere in the middle of the Lovie Smith regime when Brown could not stay on the field, probably after his 12-game, 2005 lone Pro Bowl season.

With Brown’s departure, it places increased emphasis on finding a safety both through free agency and the draft. As I’ve said before, Danieal Manning cannot be counted on to play defense, as evident from his moves from safety to cornerback to nickelback. Brandon McGowan and Craig Steltz aren’t viable options, either.

The only way to fix the problem at safety is to draft and sign a pair of players, both of whom who can compete with Kevin Payne for either starting role at safety.