Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith was arguably the best defensive player in the 2018 NFL Draft class. He fell all the way to the Chicago Bears at the #8 pick after an early run on quarterbacks, and is expected to be the next in line of a great tradition of inside/middle linebackers in Chicago, that started with Dick Butkus and led to Mike Singletary and finally Brian Urlacher. But the Bears and Roquan are facing a very unique situation. The Bears and Smith’s camp have been trying to work out a contract since early May, but have not found a solution yet. As a result of not having a contract, Smith has not been present for the first ten days and counting of Bears training camp. Smith is expected to be a vital part of this Bears’ defense, and we are now just four days away from the Hall of Fame Game, where the Bears will take on the Baltimore Ravens *the game is four days away at the time this article was written. This whole situation is very confusing, so let’s take a deeper dive.
Throughout his tenure as Chicago’s general manager, Ryan Pace has been very transparent especially around draft season. Shortly before the 2018 draft started, Pace announced that there were eight players that the Bears were comfortable with taking at the 8th overall pick. Smith falling to the eighth was quite possibly the best case scenario for the Bears. Arguably the best defensive player was right there for the taking after an early run on quarterbacks. All his life, Smith has been known to be a great leader and person, so people would not expect this kind of scrutiny to be centered around him. At first, Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy and Pace were “optimistic” that a deal would get done soon, and at that point, the public just thought that Smith was in it for more money. On July 29th at a press conference, Nagy revealed that the NFL’s new helmet rule was the source of the contract dispute.
The new rule approved by the NFL earlier this year states that its is a foul if “a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” Roquan’s camp is aiming to get Smith’s guaranteed money protected in case he gets suspended because of violating the new rule. Ryan Pace and the Bears’ management is unwilling to give Smith that protection, and now the two sides are in a “staring contest” just to see who will give in first. And from the way it appears now, neither side is willing to give up and give the other what they want. I have also heard reports that there is “little optimism” that a deal will be reached soon.
From the moment he was drafted, Smith was expected to be the bona fide starting inside linebacker alongside Danny Trevathan in Week 1 against the arch rival Green Bay Packers. Smith is supposed to be a key piece in Chicago’s defense in the future, and to see him and the Bears under this type of scrutiny is very troubling to me as a Bears fan. I do not believe that the relationship between the Bears and Smith is irreversibly damaged, because I believe that Roquan understands that this is nothing personal, it’s just business.
I am a huge Bears fan, and this whole situation is very frustrating to me. I think Ryan Pace is a top notch GM in this league and I trust him on every one of his moves, but I just can’t comprehend why he threw big money at a bunch of guys this off-season but wants to play hardball with his prized first round pick all of the sudden. I think that this issue is very temporary and will be solved in the coming weeks. I expect Roquan to be participating in pre-season games by pre-season Week 3 at the latest, and hopefully sooner. In the season opener, the Bears will play in Lambeau Field in Green Bay to take on the arch rival Green Bay Packers, and my hope is that Roquan will be ready to start on that night.
*The next portion of the article has been written after the previous portion. There were new developments on Smith’s contract dispute that I will share with you here.
The common belief was that the reason for Smith’s contract being left unsigned was due to Smith’s agent being concerned that if Smith was suspended, his guaranteed money would not be safe. As David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune reported, as of August 1st, Bears GM Ryan Pace had pledged written contract language that would protect Roquan’s guaranteed money should he get suspended. Now, Smith’s agent, CAA Football, wants Pace and the Bears to protect Smith’s guaranteed money if he gets in off the field trouble, like with law enforcement. Pace is not concerned that Smith himself will get in trouble with the law in the future, rather he is worried that he would be setting a future precedent for future contracts if he were to agree to that. Haugh reports: The Bears’ reluctance to [include contact language that would protect Smith from discipline] revolves around their fear of setting a precedent for future contracts and has nothing to do with concerns about Smith’s character, the source said. But only four teams in the league have written contracts going as far with protections such as Smith seeks, a source said. The other 28 have avoided setting such contractual precedent, perhaps out of a fear of unintended consequences. It’s not a common demand, according to one longtime agent who has negotiated NFL deals. Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times first reported the idea that CAA Football and the Bears had agreed on helmet related issues in the August 1st edition of the Hoge and Jahns podcast. This is a very strange situation, and we here at The Sports Wave will do our best to keep you updated as this story unfolds.