DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel opened training camp as “holdbacks” (reporting to the field but sitting out until they got new contracts) and the strategy quickly produced a massive pay raise for each.
The terms were similar for the two wide receivers, who could have become free agents next March. Metcalf received a three-year, $72 million extension from the Seattle Seahawks with $58.2 million guaranteed, while Samuel received $71.55 million over three years from the San Francisco 49ers with $58.1 million guaranteed.
Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James is another “retention,” and NFL Media has reported that a new deal is expected for him at any time.
It would be nice to believe that an efficient deal for Metcalf and Samuel means things will move smoothly for linebacker Roquan Smith and the Chicago Bears as they work toward a new contract. But general manager Ryan Poles made things as murky as possible on report day last week, and then the team placed Smith on the PUP list, putting him out of the league’s reach. media.
Even if Smith would like to expose his side of the story, that won’t happen as he starts most practices on a stationary bike and then supervises drills from a close distance.
“Yeah, I’m not in the middle of it,” coach Matt Eberflus said after Monday’s practice when I asked if there was any progress with Smith. “I really can’t say there is progress (or) no progress. That’s him and Ryan working together.
“I just feel like he’s being a professional. He is in the meetings and he is doing a good job helping the younger players. Once again, he’s still in PUP, so…”
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So the Bears will continue to practice a new defensive scheme with a new coaching staff without their best defensive player. The team will practice on full pads. for the first time Tuesday and Wednesday.
A hold didn’t stop Pittsburgh Steelers running back TJ Watt last season, when he waited until September to get a new contract before earning Defensive Player of the Year honors with a career-high 22½ sacks. Smith missed about four weeks when he held out as a rookie, and it didn’t negatively affect his season.
What makes things more delicate or complex, depending on how you look at it, is that Smith is operating without an agent. That makes the back-and-forth of typical negotiations challenging, as the Bears use Matthew Adams and Joe Thomas on the first-team defense with middle linebacker Nicholas Morrow.
Smith moves into a position that should highlight his abilities, the one where Lance Briggs became a star for the Bears. The weakside position in a 4-3 defense is more of a scrape-and-retreat player than middle linebacker in a 3-4. Smith is a great fit because he’s a hit-and-run player, he plays well in space and has great instincts. He will be able to utilize his lateral ability and speed in open field and be planned in blitzes.
He’ll see the field from a different angle, however, and while he was around during spring training, he needs reps with pads, not in a T-shirt and shorts. In the old NFL, the preseason would have been influential for Smith, as he gets used to a different lineup, angles of the football, responsibilities and terminology for communicating with teammates.
For a seasoned veteran, it shouldn’t be a long transition, but you’re kidding yourself if you say there’s no transition.
“When you’re in the middle, this is your point of view,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said, holding out his arms, “and things can come from both sides. When you’re outside, this is your view (holding your arms up to show half the space) and things usually come from the inside out, so that’s probably the main difference. Our (middle) linebacker has the most (what) we’d say ringside views.”
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Williams said the weakside linebacker has more “side balcony views,” another description of the ongoing transition.
“When he gets out of PUP, and he’s working with Ryan to get it done, we’ll see what happens and it’ll be day to day,” Williams said. “And when it happens, we will make our adjustment and we will connect and play. The most important thing while on PUP is to do a good job of staying mentally, which he is doing.”
Smith has yet to miss a practice with protectors and there are more than five weeks left in the season, so this isn’t alarming. But the Bears will have a hard time calling training camp a success if they can’t get their best defensive player on the field.
And at this point, the trainers say Smith is working with the general manager, not the trainer, to get off the cub list.