Chicago Bears veteran linebacker Roquan Smith ended his hold-in Saturday. The two-time All-Pro suited up for training camp practice for the first time this summer and addressed his short-term future in Chicago after what’s been a long and, at times, ugly contract dispute.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of questions about the process and everything like that,” Smith said. “And to get on the process, I thought it was very distasteful to say the least. Wasn’t what I anticipated, nor did I, like what I expected from the situation, but I’m grateful for the fans, all the loyal fans and everyone, the players as well in the locker room and the city of Chicago that stood behind me throughout this process. It means a lot to myself. But now, I’m just shifting my focus to the season and more so just focused on being the best teammate I can be to those guys in the locker room.
“It’s my last year of my deal, and hey, I’m just going to take it, run with it, bet on myself, like I’ve always done, and the negotiations are over right now. So, it’s more so I’m just focused on the season going out there being the best Bear I can be because I owe that to the guys in the locker room and to the city and all the loyal fans out there.”
So, that’s that, right? Not exactly.
Roquan Smith is arguably the Chicago Bears’ most talented player. At least, he will be until quarterback Justin Fields has his breakout year. There’s no disputing he’s the Bears’ most talented defender, and while there’s debate about whether an off-ball linebacker can really be a team’s most valuable defender, it’s fair to say Smith will be that in 2022.
But will he be around in 2023? Can a relationship as fractured as Smith’s with the Bears be repaired? It feels awfully like what we just witnessed with wide receiver Allen Robinson, who, like Smith, entered his final season in Chicago seeking a new long-term deal. Former GM Ryan Pace didn’t budge, and Robinson is now a well-paid Los Angeles Ram. By all accounts, Robinson is having a killer training camp while the Bears still don’t know who will line up opposite Darnell Mooney as starting wideouts.
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This isn’t to say there’s no chance Smith will be back in 2023. The Chicago Bears can slap him with the franchise tag next winter if he has a remarkable season. Sure, it won’t help mend the relationship, but the Bears remain in the power position when it comes to Smith’s future beyond 2022.
Still, I don’t think Ryan Poles will go that route. And if he does, it would be with the intent to trade Smith. The verbiage used by Smith over the last couple of weeks hasn’t been kind. It obviously bothered the rookie general manager. And Poles’ lack of urgency to get a deal done with Smith suggests he probably won’t be a priority this time next year, either.
So, what happens now? Roquan Smith said his focus is on 2022 and being the best Bear he can be. But remember that whole Allen Robinson thing? Fans quickly pointed out A-Rob’s lack of effort and likely self-preservation throughout the 2021 season. Robinson didn’t go the extra mile in 2021 — you know, the type that may result in a higher risk of injury — in order to get to unrestricted free agency healthy. Smith could choose the same path, even if it would seem like a bad idea to have a poor season before hitting the open market.
A tight hamstring. Maybe a calf strain. Minor and ordinary injuries could end up shelving Smith longer than expected. A few extra missed games, all with the same goal: just survive 2022.
One way Smith can help the chances he returns to the Bears is by hiring an agent. A real agent. Not a ‘Saint’ or a representative who isn’t certified by the NFLPA. He should have a reputable contract advisor who’s been through heavyweight contract negotiations. Smith should let an experienced professional advise and assist him through the most important contract of his career. It doesn’t mean he’ll get a better offer than what he’s received from the Chicago Bears. But at least he’ll get sound advice and guidance from someone who’s qualified — and certified — to do so.
If 2022 is, in fact, Smith’s final season in Chicago, it would be an unfortunate end to what’s been a fun ride watching him roam the second level of the Bears’ defense. He’s fresh off a career-best 163 tackles, and if he does give 100% effort in 2022, we could see the best version of him in Matt Eberflus’ defense. It’d be a shame if it’s nothing more than an audition for his next employer.