Roquan Smith is a terrific football player. His last four years have made him the most productive defender the Chicago Bears have. Most would agree he is now their best player overall. As a result, he seeks to become the highest-paid linebacker in football. There is nothing wrong with that. He is well within his rights to do so. However, how he’s gone about matters feels like it’s been more detrimental than helpful to his cause.
The trade request seems to have caught GM Ryan Poles by surprise. He’d felt the two sides were making progress towards a deal. Then matters became even worse when rumors surfaced that a “representative” of Smith’s was gauging interest from other teams without permission from the Bears. Everything about this situation suggests the linebacker thinks he has more leverage in the situation than he actually does.
Let’s start with the bottom line.
Chicago holds his contract rights for the entirety of 2022. That was clear the moment they picked up his fifth-year option. On top of that, they can also exercise the franchise tag to retain him through 2023. So Poles and company can play the waiting game. They have no reason to bow to Smith’s demands. Remember that he’s never played a down in this new 4-3 defense Matt Eberflus is installing. That element of the unknown should be giving them at least some pause.
That brings us to the crux of the matter. Smith wants everybody to think that losing him would be a doomsday scenario for the Bears. Without his presence, the defense will regress into oblivion. Unfortunately for him, a significant amount of evidence suggests that his exit from the picture would be more of an inconvenience than a devastating blow, especially in the long term.
Ryan Poles and Roquan Smith are in a staring contest, and each side has some valid points. We broke down the contract talk/trade request saga on the latest Under Center Podcast.
— Josh Schrock (@Schrock_And_Awe) August 12, 2022
Roquan Smith wouldn’t be the first great linebacker to exit.
The Baltimore Colts traded three-time Pro Bowler Ted Hendricks to the Green Bay Packers in 1974. Their defense ranked 21st in the NFL during his final season. That year he was gone, they improved to 14th. Then in 1975, they finished 12th. Fast forward to 1988. Bears fans probably know the name Wilber Marshall. The two-time Pro Bowler was coming off a great season in 1987 and wanted a new contract. When the Bears wouldn’t give it to him, he signed with the Washington Redskins in exchange for two 1st round picks. It was a painful loss for fans, but not so much for the team. Chicago had the #2 defense in the NFL their first season without him.
It doesn’t end there. In 2008, the New York Jets traded Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma to the New Orleans Saints. That first year without him, their defense was mediocre at 16th in the NFL (a minor improvement from 18th the previous year). Then in 2009, they were the #1 overall defense in the league. The point is that Roquan Smith is not irreplaceable. History shows that losing a top linebacker might slow a defense at first.
However, it’s like they were never there within a year or two.
Having Smith makes the defense better. That is true. He is excellent at cleaning up the mistakes of teammates. However, let’s not forget the Bears still had the 23rd-ranked run defense last year during his best season to date and were 22nd in points allowed. His number of impact plays isn’t otherworldly for all the tackles he’s compiled: five interceptions and one forced fumble in four years. Robert Quinn quadrupled the latter in one season. He also had more sacks in 2021 than Smith’s had in his career.
Keep all of this in mind as the contract saga continues to unfold.