When Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles sat down for the mandatory training camp news conference Tuesday morning, he still hadn’t crossed paths with standout linebacker Roquan Smith. The Poles had been told that Smith checked into the camp. But beyond that?
Well, let’s just say that everything the Poles knew about Smith’s contract dissatisfaction or plans to address it differed from what the GM was willing to talk about publicly. On a dais inside Halas Hall and in front of cameras broadcasting the exchange with reporters live on the Bears’ own channels, the Poles chose an evasive route. He mentioned Smith in his opening statement, but briefly and only to say that he loved the linebacker as a player and a person, but that he wasn’t going to talk about the status of Smith’s contract.
During the barrage of questions that followed, the Poles were still unable, or unwilling, to offer much.
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Had Smith communicated directly with anyone in the organization about how he planned approach training camp after a report on monday of NFL Network indicated that he might not participate in practices due to contractual frustrations?
“I’m not going to get into that situation right now,” Poles said.
Were the Poles hoping Smith would join his teammates on the field for the Bears’ first practice Wednesday morning?
“Yes,” he said. “That’s our expectation of everyone: show up and get better and put in the time.”
But what if Smith defies that and starts camp as a holdout through boycott practices?
“I don’t know what their intentions are,” Poles said. “I know that he has registered (to the camp). And we’re going to take it from there and collect information and take it one step at a time. That’s all I can do.”
Meanwhile, an eager Bears fan base is waiting and searching for clues without any comment on this point from Smith, who was not available to reporters Tuesday.
Smith is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal and will earn $9.325 million in base salary this season. Still, as a two-time All-Pro linebacker who continues to rise, Smith wants an extension beyond 2022 before the regular season rolls around and would love to be paid as one of the best defenders in the league.
Some NFL insiders have made an educated guess that Smith could be trying to cash in on a new $100 million, five-year ballpark deal. But who knows what exactly Smith is after. Or how much the Poles will be willing to invest, a first-time GM who is revamping a Bears roster full of holes.
“I’m not going to get into the contract part,” Poles said. “But like I said about him, nothing has changed from my point of view in terms of how I feel about the player and what he can bring to this team.”
As of this spring, Smith had no agent representation. Asked on Tuesday if that was still the case, the Poles were unable to find a straight answer. “Ummm… You’ll have to… Yeah. I’m not going to talk about it,” he said.
But wouldn’t that be a complicating factor in an already messy situation if Smith still didn’t have a contact person to handle contract negotiations?
“If a player didn’t have an agent, it would be a different situation than if they did,” Poles said.
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The vagueness was remarkable.
The next step, of course, is to listen to the 25-year-old linebacker and get a clearer indication of what’s going on and how he expects the situation to resolve itself.
Only four players spoke Tuesday: quarterback Justin Fields, center Lucas Patrick, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and defensive lineman Justin Jones. Johnson, Smith’s teammate for the past two seasons, was asked if he had spoken to Smith.
“I just said, ‘What’s up?’” Johnson said. “I mind my own business, big dog.”
When asked what the Bears’ defense would lack without Smith practicing, Johnson straightened up and smiled.
“(Expletive), our leader,” he said. “I want to say that everyone knows who Roquan is and what he means to the team. But at the end of the day, someone has to fill that void.”
Bears coach Matt Eberflus, meanwhile, again praised Smith’s skill set and leadership traits, but also indicated that he would make adjustments if Smith decides not to practice in the foreseeable future.
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“I will cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said.
Bears can have a A similar problem is brewing with defensive end Robert Quinn.whose 18½ sacks last season set a franchise record. Quinn was absent from mandatory minicamp last month and was fined accordingly. There are rumors within league circles that he would rather be traded than spend his 12th NFL season as part of a major rebuilding effort. But like Smith, Quinn showed up to camp on time Tuesday. And like Smith, he has not publicly expressed any of his desires.
The Poles haven’t had any direct indication that Quinn is pushing to be traded.
“I haven’t had that conversation with him,” Poles said. “I hope he wants to be here.”
The Bears will arrive at the practice field at 10 a.m. Wednesday and will have four practices this week before his first mandatory day off on Sunday.
So much is fluid with a team that has been overhauled since January. But the Smith and Quinn states will remain prime problems and challenges for the Poles to tackle as they see fit.