Roquan Smith Trade: Grading Bears’ decision to send Smith to Ravens

The Chicago Bears traded All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens Monday in exchange for a 2023 second and fifth-round pick. The Bears received veteran linebacker A.J. Klein, too.

The relationship between the Bears and Smith was, in a word, dysfunctional. Smith is playing the 2022 season on the fifth-year option in his rookie contract after months of failed negotiations for a contract extension. Things turned ugly when Smith called the negotiations “distasteful” after ending his training camp hold-in last August.

With nine games left in the 2022 regular season, the Bears and Smith were staring down the barrel of yet another awkward offseason of contract distractions. Sure, Chicago could’ve used the franchise tag on Smith to ensure they controlled his rights for the 2023 season, but what would that accomplish? If GM Ryan Poles did use the dreaded franchise tag on Smith, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Smith sat out the maximum number of games allowed in 2023.

The point? The Bears reached the moment of no return with Smith when they couldn’t agree on contract terms over the summer. Perhaps, Smith’s demands were unreasonable. Maybe Poles undervalued his services and made a disrespectful offer. Whatever happened behind the scenes was bad enough for neither side to want to engage any further. As in any of life’s relationships, if there’s no communication, there’s no bond.

Now, Smith is a Baltimore Raven.

It’s difficult to say anything short of a first-round pick for Roquan Smith is a good return for the Bears. But in this case, a second and fifth-round pick is a nice haul for a team in a rebuild. Chicago now has nine picks, including two second, fourth, and fifth-rounders. Linebackers, like running backs, can be found in the middle rounds; there’s a chance the Bears land Roquan’s replacement as early as next April.

By making this trade, the Bears avoid the inevitable distraction that Roquan Smith’s contract would’ve been next offseason. Now, Poles can focus on talent evaluation, both in free agency and the NFL Draft. He doesn’t have to spend any of his time negotiating a complicated contract with Smith, who doesn’t have a certified agent.

As for a grade for this trade, it’s not an ‘A’ for the Bears. It’s not even a ‘B+’, either. It can’t be. Chicago won’t be able to replace Smith’s impact in 2022, and the defense will suffer mightily for it. But I do think it warrants a solid ‘B.’

Poles is building the Bears the right way. He’s investing in the draft, and he knows this club isn’t close enough to contention that it can spend top dollar on a luxury position like an inside linebacker. Priorities remain at offensive tackle and wide receiver. Until those positions are strengthened, it won’t matter who’s playing linebacker on defense.

So, the Bears and Ryan Poles get a B. It’s sad to see Roquan Smith go, but it’s exciting to know this team has a bright future ahead.

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