A few hours after Roquan Smith issued 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 entered practice just 35 yards from his star linebacker. But the two apparently keep a greater distance when it comes to contract negotiations.
Smith, who sat out all 11 training camp practices while waiting for a new deal, said in a statement to NFL Network Tuesday morning that the Bears’ front office “doesn’t value me here,” has “refused to negotiate in good faith. and he has focused on “trying to take advantage of me.” He said that he has been in talks with the Bears since April and that the deal they proposed would be bad for him and the entire linebacker market.
“I wanted to be a Bear my entire career, to help this team bring a Super Bowl back to our city,” Smith’s statement read. “However, they have left me no choice but to apply for a trade that allows me to play for an organization that truly values what I bring to the table.”
In a brief unscheduled session with reporters after practice, Poles said he was disappointed with the state of negotiations and thought they would be in a better place given his appreciation for what Smith has done on the field during his first four seasons. .
Asked if he intends 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 have to do what’s best for this organization. But my intentions are to make sure Roquan Smith is on this team.”
The Poles said they thought the Bears made a respectful offer to Smith that “showed value for who he is as a football player and what he can become.”
Smith, who is working without an agent, obviously didn’t think that was the case. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport cited a delayed offer that “wouldn’t make him the highest-paid (linebacker) in actual salary” and proposed de-escalation that is rare for contracts of this magnitude.
“I have always believed and will always believe that we take care of our local talent,” Poles said. “We pay them, we take care of them and we take them all for what they have done and what they can become in the future. And with this situation, we have shown respect from very early on.
“And with that said, there are record-setting pieces in this contract that I thought would show him the respect he deserves, and that obviously hasn’t been the case.”
Smith, 25, was selected in the first round in 2018 by former general manager Ryan Pace and is playing on his fifth-year option this season. He has totaled 524 tackles, 43 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 17 passes defensed and five interceptions in 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 last year was for five years, $95 million.
But considering negotiations have stalled, questions remain about the value Poles places on Smith’s position at weakside 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 is not about one player,” Poles said. “My job is to build a roster that will sustain success over a long period of time. We have to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears.”
Smith, who could very well be using his statement, posted on Twitter, as leverage, said he has not spoken to the McCaskey family. He said that “maybe they can salvage this, but as of now I don’t see a way back to the organization that I truly love.”
Poles acknowledged that he faces a “difficult” situation negotiating with Smith without an agent as an intermediary.
“There are emotions involved and it’s difficult,” Poles said. “It’s a very unique situation that we’ve had to deal with, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job. … That is why I am a little disappointed that we are in this place.”
During the first two weeks of training campSmith has organized a “retention,” which means he attends 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 the team’s periods from the sideline, at one point snuggling with middle linebacker Nicholas Morrow.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said he talks with Smith almost daily, mostly about football and not business, though Eberflus said he hadn’t talked to him yet on Tuesday.
“Things happen in this business,” Eberflus said. “There are few things that surprise you. You take it for what it is and move on. So I really had no reaction. I was disappointed in that, but that’s where it is now. We are working forward. Ryan will continue to work with Roquan and we’ll see where he goes.”
Bears offensive tackle Riley Reiff was one of two players who spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s practice. He has only been with the Bears for a couple of weeks, but played against Smith 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 for how many years and just what he brings, the leader, the kind of person he is in the locker room, we want him here.”