Roquan Smith is a great football player. His last four years have made him the most prolific defenseman the Chicago Bears have. Most agree that he is now their best player overall. As a result, he wants to become the highest paid linebacker in football. There’s nothing wrong with that. He is entitled to that. However, how he handles things feels like it has been more damaging than helpful to his cause.
The trade request seems to have taken GM Ryan Poland by surprise. He felt that the two sides were making progress towards a deal. Then things got worse when rumors surfaced that a Smith ‘representative’ was sounding the interest of other teams without the Bears’ permission. Everything about this situation suggests that the linebacker thinks he has more influence on the situation than he actually does.
Let’s start with the bottom line.
Chicago has his contract rights for the whole of 2022. That was clear the moment they picked up his option for the fifth year. In addition, they can also exercise the franchise tag to keep it until 2023. So Poland and the company can play the waiting game. They have no reason to bow to Smith’s demands. Remember he has never played a down in this new 4-3 defense that Matt Eberflus is installing. That element of the unknown should at least give them some break.
That brings us to the heart of the matter. Smith wants everyone to think that losing him would be doomsday for the Bears. Without his presence, the defense will fade into oblivion. Unfortunately for him, a significant amount of evidence suggests that his departure from the picture would be more of an inconvenience than a devastating blow, especially in the long run.
Roquan Smith wouldn’t be the first major linebacker to leave.
The Baltimore Colts traded three-time Pro Bowler Ted Hendricks to the Green Bay Packers in 1974. Their defense ranked 21st in the NFL during his final season. That year he was gone, they improved to 14th. Then in 1975 they finished 12th. Fast forward to 1988. Bears fans probably know the name Wilber Marshall. The two-time Pro Bowler had a great season in 1987 and wanted a new contract. When the Bears wouldn’t give it to him, he signed with the Washington Redskins in exchange for two first round picks. It was a painful loss for the fans, but not so much for the team. Chicago had the #2 defense in the NFL their first season without him.
It doesn’t stop there. In 2008, the New York Jets traded Pro Bowl linebacker Jonathan Vilma to the New Orleans Saints. That first year without him, their defense was mediocre at 16th in the NFL (a slight improvement from 18th the previous year). In 2009, they were the No. 1 overall defense in the league. The point is, Roquan Smith is not irreplaceable. History shows that losing a top linebacker in the beginning can slow down a defense.
However, it’s like they were never there in a year or two.
Having Smith makes the defense better. That’s true. He is excellent at cleaning up teammates’ mistakes. However, let’s not forget that last year in its best season to date, the Bears were still 23rd in the standings and 22nd in points allowed. His number of impact plays isn’t out of this world for all the tackles he’s put together: five interceptions and one forced fumble in four years. Robert Quinn quadrupled the latter in one season. He also had more layoffs in 2021 than Smith’s in his career.
Keep all this in mind as the contract saga continues to unfold.
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