Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith does not plan to participate in the early stages of training camp. according to a report by NFL Network on Monday because he’s unhappy with the direction of negotiations for a possible contract extension.
It’s unclear at this time if Smith will report to camp on time Tuesday but he will decline to participate in practices, thus avoiding penalties for being absent from camp. His other option would be to stay out of camp altogether — and be subject to the accompanying financial penalty — until contract negotiations move in a direction he approves.
Smith is entering the fifth season of his rookie deal and is viewed by most in the NFL as the biggest building block in a Bears defense that has undergone big changes over the past two seasons. Smith was a second-team All-Pro in each of the past two seasons and is set to make a big difference in coach Matt Eberflus’ defense.
But after going through a regime change last winter, the Bears’ new front-office evaluators and coaches may want to take a closer look at Smith on the field, gauging his fit and production within the new defensive system. before delving into conversations about how their long-term performance should establish value for the organization.
At owners meetings in March, new Bears general manager Ryan Poles was asked about his efforts to get Smith an extension before the regular season began.
“If he’s the guy that I think he is, that’s something we have to address,” Poles said. “I think he’s a really good linebacker and on this defense with Matt and (defensive coordinator) Alan (Williams), there’s a good chance he’s going to have a really good year. … Obviously, the sooner you get to that (extension), the better. But also with a new staff, we can wait a bit.”
At this stage, the Bears’ waiting game may also spark a staring contest if Smith decides to use his clout by staying out of camp practices.
Smith was the Bears’ first overall draft pick in 2018, selected No. 8 overall by then-general manager Ryan Pace. Without a signed contract in the summer of his rookie season, Smith out of training camp for 29 days and missed 16 practices. Returning to the field in August, he suffered a hamstring injury during his first week of practice and it took several weeks for him to regain full strength. (When the Bears helped him back into action, he didn’t start the season opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.)
Smith’s current contract has a base salary of $9.735 million for 2022, according to spotrac.com, as part of the fifth-year option the Bears exercised more than a year ago. His current contract is set to expire next March, at which point he would become an unrestricted free agent if an extension had not yet materialized. Smith has expressed his interest in continuing his career with the Bears.
Smith attended the Bears’ voluntary minicamp for new coaches in April and also participated in organized team activities and mandatory minicamps during May and June without publicly expressing any discontent with his contract status. Asked in April why he chose to come to the first voluntary practices under Eberflus, Smith said it was important to him to be a leader amid the widespread changes at Halas Hall.
“This is me and I will stand up for what I believe in,” he said. “And my job and what I believe in is showing up and doing what I have to do. … I just know what I signed up for.”
Perhaps now, though, Smith will take a different stance as he works to secure his future.
The top-tier linebacker market has exploded recently. Last August, Indianapolis Colts star Darius Leonard signed a five-year, $98.5 million extension that included $33 million guaranteed. A few weeks earlier, Fred Warner of the San Francisco 49ers signed a five-year, $95.3 million extension with $40.5 million guaranteed.
Those deals likely provide a ballpark for what Smith could be looking for as he looks to continue his career with the Bears. But as of this spring, the fifth-year linebacker still had no agent representation, another factor complicating contract negotiations.
Earlier this spring, Eberflus called Smith a “very positive, upbeat person,” impressed with the linebacker’s ability to set the tone and eager to see how his skills on the field would elevate the defense.
“I like the way it moves,” Eberflus said. It’s fast. He is athletic. He catches the ball well. That is an important part of our defense. I like where he is he. We will find out where he fits in and what his skill set can do.”
That process may now hit a bit of a snag as the team hits the track heading into Week 1.
The Bears will report to training camp as a full team on Tuesday with their first practice scheduled for 10 am Wednesday. The Poles and Eberflus are scheduled to speak to members of the media on Tuesday morning.