GM Ryan Pace knows one of the most difficult parts of team-building in the NFL isn’t the initial construction of something good. It is finding a way to maintain that level of excellence over time. Only a certain few organizations are capable of this. Being able to build a strong roster and then continuously reloading it as players depart either for big paydays elsewhere or simply because of old age. This is where Roquan Smith comes into focus for the Chicago Bears.

Pace did a tremendous job building that defense into one of the best in the NFL over the past few years. However, his biggest test yet approaches. Several core members that made it great are pushing into their 30s. Khalil Mack, Danny Trevathan, and Akiem Hicks headline that group. The time is approaching when they are going to start regressing. At that point, the Bears will have to start finding younger alternatives to keep the defense strong.

Something his predecessors failed to do.

Smith is the key piece to the puzzle. The 24-year old has established himself as one of the top young inside linebackers in the league. Somebody who should’ve made All-Pro after an outstanding 2020 season. He has played consistently great football since he arrived three years ago. There is no question Smith is the centerpiece of the defense’s future. That is why his upcoming contract extension is so vital.

What nobody knows for sure is the kind of money it would likely take to happen. For years Seattle Seahawks star Bobby Wagner has been the ceiling among inside linebackers at $18 million per year. Was it going to stay that way or is the needle fixing to move? We finally have an answer. The San Francisco 49ers reached a deal with their own star Fred Warner. A five-year agreement worth $95 million. That equates to $19 million per year. A new bar.

One that may not survive long since Indianapolis Colts star Darius Leonard is also due a new contract in the near future. He might top Warner’s number.

Roquan Smith can top them all with a great 2021

The Bears already picked up his 5th-year option. That means he is under contract through 2022. So there is plenty of time for him and the team to get an extension worked out. However, given the direction the price is going? It might be smart if Pace tried to get something done sooner than later. The number figures will only go higher the longer he waits. Especially if Smith ends up crushing this upcoming season.

Things are certainly lining up that way. He’s in top shape, playing more confidently than ever, and will also get some added help up front. Eddie Goldman is returning to his customary spot at nose tackle. With him eating up blocks, it should free up Roquan Smith to be even more devastating than he was last season. That is saying something.

Will Pace ultimately pay up?

Considering Smith is the best 1st round pick he’s made to this point and the Bears GM prefers to reward his own players? It can be called almost a foregone conclusion that a deal will get done. The young linebacker has lived up to the hype and is only getting better.