Following the trade of edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith is now the unquestioned headliner on defense. Entering his fifth season in the league, the former 2018 first-round pick is playing on the Bears’ fifth-year option and is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next year.
Don’t count on that happening, however. Smith, who turned just 25 years old in April, is one of the NFL’s most talented (young) inside linebackers. He set a career-high in tackles (163) last season and stuffed the stat sheet with an interception, three sacks, and a defensive touchdown. It was the second-straight season that he started every game.
Smith’s market value is as high as ever, and the price point for linebackers continues to climb. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is the standard, with a contract that pays him $19.7 million annually. New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosely is next, earning $17 million per year. Smith should reset that market once his new deal is done, although when that will happen remains a mystery.
Smith, who said his plan is to remain with the Bears for the long-term, said at the team’s first voluntary minicamp that he isn’t focusing on the business side of the game.
“It’s personal at the end of the day,” Smith said. “All that business is more so my business upstairs. I’m confident we’ll get everything taken care of. My main focus is out on the field and doing what I have to do and bond better with my boys.
General Manager Ryan Poles said at the NFL Owners Meetings in March that re-signing Smith is a priority but didn’t say whether it’s a deal that will get done before the 2022 season. Allowing Smith to log another top-notch year without a new contract is risky; his price tag will only continue going up.
Smith is participating in the Bears’ voluntary minicamp despite the traditional approach by players around the league who are on expiring contracts. They tend to skip these workouts. Smith, on the other hand, is focused on having a big season in 2022.
“At the end of the day, and I’ll always be this way, I’m me and I’ll stand for what I believe in,” Smith said. “And my job and what I believe in is showing up and doing what I have to do. I don’t focus on others or anything like that. I just know what I signed up for.”