Roquan Smith formally requested a trade from the Chicago Bears on Tuesday. It was the latest escalation in a standoff that started last month when it became clear the star linebacker intended to hold out from practices. He isn’t happy with how GM Ryan Poles has handled negotiations, describing it as the team trying to take advantage of him. It is unknown how much of that is accurate and how much of it is exaggeration from a player trying to drum up public sympathy.
Poles, for his part, addressed the media shortly after the news broke. He described the development as surprising and disappointing. He felt things were going in the right direction between the two sides. The Bears made an offer he felt met enough requirements to make it a top deal in the league. Smith didn’t see it that way. He felt insulted by the offer, and so took his grievances public. It is a negotiating tactic.
Yet things like this can spiral out of control quickly.
It wouldn’t be the first time a team and player realized the gulf between their desired numbers was too far to bridge. Trades tend to follow when that happens. Poles didn’t dismiss that idea. He wants Smith to stay, but he also knows his priority is doing what is best for the Bears. If a trade is unavoidable, that is the course he will take. What isn’t clear is the compensation he could get in return. Ian Rapoport shed light on that during his interview on 670 The Score.
“On the one hand, he’s a linebacker, and the off-the-ball linebacker market hasn’t been robust. Free agency was not robust this year. On the other hand, I would make the argument that he transcends position. Yes, he’s an off-the-ball linebacker, but he is so good that it sort of doesn’t matter.
You look around the league at some of these players who want a new contract, it has been for a 1st rounder and maybe more. From Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown (to) Davante Adams. Year ago (it was) Jalen Ramsey. Laremy Tunsil. Plenty of deals for superstar players that included new contracts that are for more than a 1st round pick. So we’ll see what the value is but, to me, that is all within reach.”
The situation is unique. Off-the-ball linebackers of his caliber are rarely traded. There are only two instances in recent NFL history that come close. In 2008, the New Orleans Saints traded 3rd and 4th round picks to the New York Jets for Jonathan Vilma. Then in 2016, the Cleveland Browns secured Pro Bowler Jamie Collins from the New England Patriots for a 3rd round pick.
That doesn’t paint an optimistic picture for the Bears. Then again, the Seattle Seahawks gave up two 1st round picks for Jamal Adams, so it’s all about finding the right taker.
Trading Roquan Smith is the last resort.
The fact remains Smith is the Bears’ best player. Smart teams try to keep good players on their roster. Replacing somebody of that caliber is beyond difficult. Don’t forget what happened when the Bears lost Brian Urlacher to retirement. It took the defense years to recover. Then again, recent history does prove great linebackers aren’t required to win championships. The 2017 Eagles, 2018 Patriots, 2019 Chiefs, and 2021 Rams all managed without one.
Poles was part of that Chiefs team. He knows this. Winning football isn’t driven through the linebacker position anymore. Not like it was 30-40 years ago. He wants to keep Roquan Smith in Chicago. There is no reason to let a good player go if you don’t have to. At the same time, he must do what is best for the Bears. If the 25-year-old is dead set on shattering the market, then the GM sounds content to let somebody else pay him that money.
It is hard to fault Poles for that.
Not all hope is lost. Signs continue to indicate Smith wants to stay. He is still attending practices. A month remains before the regular season begins. There is enough time to get this situation figured out. Both sides need to find common ground.