A few hours after Roquan Smith released a statement saying he requested a trade from the Chicago Bears, he watched Tuesday’s Family Fest practice from the sideline at Soldier Field.
General manager Ryan Poles took in the practice just 35 yards away from his star linebacker. But the two apparently remain a greater distance apart when it comes to contract negotiations.
Smith, who has sat out all 11 training camp practices while awaiting a new deal, said in a statement to NFL Network on Tuesday morning that the Bears front office “doesn’t value me here,” has “refused to negotiate in good faith” and has focused on “trying to take advantage of me.” He said he has been in talks with the Bears since April and the deal they proposed would be bad for him and the entire linebacker market.
“I wanted to be a Bear for my entire career, help this team bring a Super Bowl back to our city,” Smith’s statement read. “However, they have left me no choice than to request a trade that allows me to play for an organization that truly values what I bring to the table.”
In a short, unscheduled session with reporters after practice, Poles said he was disappointed with where negotiations were at and thought they would be in a better place given his appreciation for what Smith has done on the field over his first four NFL seasons.
Asked if he intended to trade Smith, Poles said, “Right now my intentions are to sign Roquan to this team. And we’re going to take it day by day. At the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s best for this organization. But my intentions are to make sure Roquan Smith’s on this team.”
Poles said he thought the Bears made a respectful offer to Smith that “showed value for what he is as a football player and what he can become.”
Smith, who is working without an agent, obviously didn’t believe that to be the case. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport cited a backloaded offer that “wouldn’t make him the highest paid (linebacker) in actual salary” and that proposed de-escalators are rare for contracts of this magnitude.
“I’ve always believed and always will that we take care of our homegrown talent,” Poles said. “We pay them, we take care of them and we take everyone for what they’ve done and what they can become in the future. And with this situation, we’ve showed respect from a very early timeframe. And with that said, there’s record-setting pieces of this contract that I thought was going to show him the respect that he deserves, and obviously that hasn’t been the case.”
Smith, 25, is a 2018 first-round pick of former GM Ryan Pace and is playing on his fifth-year option this season. He has totaled 524 tackles, 43 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks, 17 passes defended and five interceptions over four seasons.
Smith has obvious blueprints for a contract. Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard signed a five-year, $99 million deal last season, and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner’s contract was for five years, $95 million last year.
But considering negotiations have stalled, questions remain about the value Poles places not on Smith but on his position at weak-side linebacker and whether Poles wants to see how Smith performs under a new coaching staff before committing that kind of money. The Bears could use the franchise tag on Smith for 2023.
“We can’t lose sight that this isn’t about one player,” Poles said. “My job is to build a roster that’s going to sustain success for a long period of time. We’ve got to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears.”
Smith, who very well could be using his statement — published on Twitter — as leverage, said he hadn’t yet spoken with the McCaskey family. He said “maybe they can salvage this, but as of right now I don’t see a path back to the organization I truly love.”
Poles acknowledged he faces a “difficult” situation in negotiating with Smith without an agent as the middleman.
“There are emotions involved and it’s tough,” Poles said. “It’s a very unique situation that we’ve had to deal with, and I thought we’ve done a pretty good job, which again that’s why I’m a little disappointed we’re at this spot.”
Over the first two weeks of training camp, Smith has staged a “hold-in,” meaning he takes part in meetings, trains at Halas Hall and watches practices but doesn’t actually practice. The Bears placed him on the physically unable to perform list to open camp. On Tuesday, he worked out on the sideline with injured players and then watched team periods from the sideline, at one point huddling with middle linebacker Nicholas Morrow.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said he speaks with Smith almost daily — mostly about football and not business — though Eberflus said he hadn’t yet talked to him Tuesday.
“Things in this business happen,” Eberflus said. “There are few things that surprise you. You take it for what it is and you move forward, and that’s what you do. So I really didn’t have any reaction. I was disappointed in that, but that’s where it is right now. We’re working forward. Ryan’s going to be working forward with Roquan, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Bears offensive tackle Riley Reiff was one of two players to speak with reporters after Tuesday’s practice. He has been with the Bears for only a couple of weeks but has seen Smith play against him when Reiff was with the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals.
“He’s one of the best players in the NFL,” Reiff said. “I’ve played against him how many years now and just what he brings, the leader, the type of guy he is in the locker room, we want him here.”