Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith is entering the final year of his rookie contract after being selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The back-to-back All-Pro should break the bank in his second contract, which will also be the first significant extension handled by new general manager Ryan Poles.
According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, there’s a growing belief that negotiations between the Bears and Smith will heat up as the summer marches on.
“Expect talks between the Bears and Smith to heat up some time this summer,” Fowler wrote. “Even other Bears players close to free agency believe Smith is the priority for Chicago and new GM Ryan Poles. Smith has worked his way into top-10 linebacker status thanks to versatility and production. He has compiled 14 sacks, 17 pass deflections, and five interceptions on his way to back-to-back second-team All-Pro nods.
“With the top of the linebacker market approaching $20 million annually, Smith should push that number. He doesn’t have an agent and will essentially negotiate on his own behalf, but he showed up to offseason workouts as a sign of good faith.”
Roquan Smith could become the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard owns the highest average annual salary among inside linebackers. He signed a five-year, $98.5 million deal last August after starring in head coach Matt Eberflus’ defense.
Smith, who, as Fowler noted, doesn’t have an agent, is the most talented player on the Bears’ defense entering the 2022 season. He turned just 25 years old in April and is barely scratching his prime. Spotrac has his projected market value at $17.5 million per year, but that seems low for a player who’s amassed more than 100 tackles in each of his four seasons in the league. Smith set a career-high with 163 tackles in 2021 and increased his career sack total to 14.
Smith’s accolades in his young career are as impressive as his stat sheet. He was named to the 2018 All-Rookie Team and was an All-Pro performer in 2020 and 2021.
Poles would be wise to get a deal done before Smith adds another elite season to his resume. For a team in the first phase of a rebuild, keeping a young and productive leader like Smith around for the long haul is good business.
Bryan is the founder and managing editor of Bears Talk. His previous stops include Bears coverage for NBC Sports Chicago and USA Today. His NFL Draft and Bears coverage has also been featured on The Draft Network.