Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith is not scheduled to participate in the early stages of training camp. NFL Network reportsBecause he is unhappy with the direction of negotiations for a possible extension of the agreement.
It’s unclear at this time if Smith will report to camp on time Tuesday but decline to participate in practices, thus avoiding a camp absence penalty. His other option would be to walk out of camp entirely — and suffer the financial penalty that goes with it — unless contract talks move in a direction he approves of.
Smith is entering the fifth season of his rookie deal and is viewed around the NFL as the biggest building block of a Bears defense that has undergone major changes over the past two seasons. Smith was a second-team All-Pro in each of the past two seasons and is poised to be a key difference-maker on coach Matt Eberfels’ defense.
But after going through a regime change last winter, the Bears’ new front office evaluators and coaches will want to take a long look at Smith on the field, before gauging his fit and production within the new scheme. Let’s move on to the discussion of what the long-term value is. The organization should be set.
At the owners’ meetings in March, new Bears general manager Ryan Polis was asked about efforts to secure an extension for Smith before the regular season began.
“If he’s the guy I think he is, we’ve got to address him,” Polis said. “I think he’s a really good linebacker and with Matt and (defensive coordinator) Allen (Williams) on this defense, he has a good chance to have a really good year. … Obviously the sooner you Get to it (the extension), the better. But with a new staff, we might be waiting a little longer.
Smith was the Bears’ top overall draft pick in 2018, selected No. 8 overall by then-GM Ryan Pace. Without a signed contract in the summer of his rookie season, Smith sat out 29 days of training camp and missed 15 practices. Upon returning to the field that August, he suffered a hamstring injury during his first week of practice and needed several weeks to return to full strength. (As the Bears reinstated him, he did not start the season opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.)
According to Smith’s current contract, the base salary for 2022 is $9.375 million. spotrac.com, exercised by the Bears more than a year ago as part of a fifth-year option. His current contract is set to expire next March, at which point he would have become an unrestricted free agent if the extension had not yet gone through. Smith has expressed his interest in continuing his career with the Bears.
The market for high-end linebackers has grown recently. Last August, Indianapolis Colts star Darius Leonard signed a five-year, $98.5 million extension that included $33 million guaranteed. A few weeks ago, Fred Warner of the San Francisco 49ers signed a five-year, $95.3 million extension with $40.5 million guaranteed.
These deals potentially provide a ballpark that Smith could be looking for as he looks to continue his career with the Bears. But as of this spring, the fifth-year linebacker was still without agent representation, another complicating factor in contract negotiations.
The Bears will report to training camp as a full team on Tuesday with the first practice at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Police and Eberfels are scheduled to speak with members of the media Tuesday morning.