The Chicago Bears won’t have much time to rest after the NFL draft concludes on May 1st. Literal minutes after the final pick goes down, teams will be scrambling to scoop up as many top undrafted free agents as possible. Given how many roster vacancies the Bears still have, one can imagine they’ll be busy around that time. Then there is the situation around Roquan Smith.
People don’t realize another deadline will follow the end of the draft. Just two days later on May 3rd will be the final day teams can choose to pick up the 5th year option in the contracts of their 1st round picks from back in 2018. That of course was Smith for the Bears. If they do so, they will be on the hook for $9.375 million in 2022. Will Ryan Pace pick that up?
It would be a considerable shock if he didn’t.
Smith was arguably the Bears’ best defensive player in 2020. He finished with 139 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, four sacks, and two interceptions. The best all-around season a Bears inside linebacker has had since Brian Urlacher in 2010. If that isn’t proof Smith is a damn good football player, nothing is. He more than deserves to be the second 1st round pick Pace has drafted to get the 5th year option.
Of course, the hope will be it turns out better than the first one. That was Leonard Floyd. After his strong finish to 2018, the Bears picked up his option in hopes he was ready to take off in 2019. It didn’t happen. Floyd finished with just three sacks, forcing the team to rescind the option in 2020. Naturally, he immediately signed elsewhere and cracked 10 sacks for the first time in Los Angeles. Maybe Smith has better luck this time.
Roquan Smith is the Bears’ future
He is the foundational piece they no doubt hope to keep building around in the years to come. At 23-years old, he’s still just getting into the prime of his career. Others like Jaylon Johnson and Bilal Nichols look like they can form that new core as well. The problem for Pace and the top brass is what to do about the aging mainstay around them. Specifically Danny Trevathan for example.
Re-signing him to a three-deal last offseason felt like a wise decision given he was still playing well and was an undeniable leader in the locker room. Yet it was also a risk given his advancing age. Looking at this as they stand? It feels like 2021 could end up being his last season with the Bears. So it might be premium timing for the team to start looking for somebody who can start next to Roquan Smith long-term.
Don’t be shocked if the Bears grab somebody to develop on Day 3.
Even after they pick up the option on Smith, it’s possible Pace may move to get him a contract extension sooner than later. The highest-paid player at that position is Bobby Wagner at $18 million per year. Only one other is close to that number in C.J. Mosley at $17 million. Considering how much the Jets regret that contract, it’s fair to wonder if the Bears may try to get it closer to Zach Cunningham who is third at $14.5 million.
Either way, expect Smith to stay in navy blue and orange for years to come.