Roquan Smith left the Chicago Bears just over a month ago. This ended a run with the organization that was both illustrious and erratic. The linebacker was easily one of the Bears’ best employees since the departures of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. At the same time, he had developed a reputation for being a distraction with his multiple holdouts, hanging out on crowded boats during a pandemic and missing games for undisclosed reasons. His exit from the team culminated with his appeal to GM Ryan Poles a liar in all but name.
That hasn’t changed. Smith is fitting in well with his new team, the Baltimore Ravens. They are 9-4 with one of the best defenses in the league. The linebacker is positioning himself to make that big contract he wants so badly. It’s no secret that Smith wants to be the highest paid player in his position in the NFL. Reports from several insiders after negotiations broke down this summer said the Bears’ offer was fair. Obviously, Smith disagreed. He said it again very clearly during his interview with Dan Pompei from Athleticism.
The animosity is hard to miss.
Last offseason, after the Bears hired Ryan Poles as general manager and Matt Eberflus as head coach, the Poles called Smith into his office. Smith said the Poles told him he would build Chicago’s offense around quarterback Justin Fields and the defense around Smith. That meant giving Smith, the Bears’ record holder for single-season tackles, a contract that was “best in the market” for off-ball linebackers.
“I took him at his word,” Smith said. “But life happens.”…
…But negotiations with the Bears didn’t go the way Smith expected. After being traded to weak side linebacker in the offseason, he stayed out of practice for the first month of training camp and two weeks later asked to be traded.
“I thought the Poles were going to send me off, but he repeatedly told me, ‘I’m not planning on trading you at all‘” says Smith. “So I was like, ‘I guess I’m not going anywhere.’ He said we would talk at the end of the season.”…
… Smith and Poles met face to face and exchanged a series of emails. He says the Poles asked him to agree to de-escalations in his contract that no player earning more than $15m per year has in his contract. The proposed contract was also heavily loaded, according to Smith. “It was, he said, a slap in the face.”
Roquan Smith is Raven’s problem now.
It is undeniable that he is a very good player. He was a key addition to Baltimore’s defense. The problem is little has changed. He still doesn’t have a contract extension. While the Ravens insist their goal is to get there, the reality is that Smith will have the same demands on them that he made on the Poles and the Bears. He wants to be the highest paid player in his position. It won’t be easy, considering two things. Smith still doesn’t have an agent and quarterback Lamar Jackson doesn’t have a new contract. He will have the top priority of the organization, as he should. They could tag him in the franchise, but that would open the door for Smith to go to free agency.
Meanwhile, the Bears don’t seem to miss him too much. Rookie Jack Sanborn has strengthened considerably as the new starting center linebacker. He may not be the athlete that Roquan Smith is, but he is already becoming a similar presence. This offers some validation for Poles who do not give in to such high demands in the summer. The GM does not believe in paying premium money to non-premium players. It should be noted that the Bears’ run defense averaged 156 yards per game allowed with Smith on the ground. Since leaving, that number has dropped to 130.8.
Yes, he will be missed in the locker room. That said, no one can say the Bears lost a key to the championship puzzle by trading it. Smith is entitled to his feelings, whether they are true or (more likely) exaggerated.