Most of the big business for the Chicago Bears‘ 2022 off-season is complete. GM Ryan Poles still plans to continue churning the roster, looking for upgrades wherever he can find them. However, the odds of another major acquisition happening are remote. That is why the buzz is picking up that the team is shifting its focus to locking down players they may wish to keep before the start of next offseason. At the top of that list is Roquan Smith.
With the departure of Khalil Mack, there is no longer any debate that the best player on that defense is Smith. While he may not have earned Pro Bowl recognition, he has now been second-team All-Pro in back-to-back seasons. Since entering the league in 2018, he has compiled 524 tackles, 14 sacks, and five interceptions. Brian Urlacher enjoyed a similar rate during his first four seasons in Chicago.
In other words, Smith has been ballin’.
That is why many expect he’s about to cash in big time. It is merely a matter of figuring out the numbers. As of today, Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts is the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL, signing a five-year, $98.25 million deal at $19.7 million per year. Some wonder if Smith will push to become the first-ever linebacker to crack the $20 million per year mark. Bill Barnwell of ESPN doesn’t believe that will happen, but he did offer the most likely number we’ll see.
“Roquan Smith emerged as one of the league’s best middle linebackers in 2020, and at 25, he is young enough to still be a key player once the Bears come out of their rebuild. I’m not sure he will top the deals signed by Bobby Wagner and C.J. Mosley at their respective peaks, but a four-year extension should come in at around $72 million.”
That would average out to $18 million per year, making him the third-highest paid linebacker in the league behind only Leonard and Fred Warner in San Francisco. A hefty payday, to be sure. What remains unclear is whether Smith would accept that. Nobody knows exactly what he’s seeking. Matters are made all the more confusing because he’s representing himself without an agent.
Roquan Smith has a big decision of his own to make.
It comes down to his money demands. If he wants top dollar from the Bears, he’s unlikely to get it. At least not right now. He would have to hold off on extension talks and gamble on having another great season in 2022. Doing so would force the team’s hand and likely get him the deal he wants. However, that carries significant risks. Suffering any regression in productivity would see his price tag drop.
That is why getting his extension now is the safer option. His leverage is still considerable. While he may not get to be the guy who resets the market, he’ll still become one of the highest-paid linebackers in league history. That is a tremendous accomplishment. It would more than ensure his long-term financial security as well.
Once again, it comes down to how far he wants to push it.
Roquan Smith made it clear he wants to stay in Chicago. That is “that plan.” He knows how appreciated he is in the city and how Bears fans treasure good linebackers. There is also the fact a defensive head coach Matt Eberflus is taking over with a new scheme that is notorious for elevating that position. After all, it just got Leonard that record-setting deal in Indianapolis. It’d be short-sighted to leave now.