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Roquan Smith holdout reaches milestone as Bears prepare to break camp

Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick of the 2018 draft, has missed 27 days, 14 practices and two preseason because of a contract impasse. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP photo

BOURBONNAIS — Roquan Smith will not see Bourbonnais. Not this year, anyway.

In what has to be a major disappointment for the Bears, the contract impasse with their first-round draft pick reached a dubious milestone, with the still-unsigned Smith almost certain to miss all of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. The Bears break camp and head back to Lake Forest after a light practice Sunday that is not open to the public.

With the preseason process accelerating, the expected fallout from Smith’s 27-day holdout magnifies as the Bears get closer to the start of the regular season against the Packers on Sept. 9 at Lambeau Field.

Coach Matt Nagy has downplayed Smith’s absence, but with Olivet Nazarene soon to be in the rearview mirror, the big question — other than when will Smith sign his contract — becomes more and more relevant: How much damage has been done? How quickly can Smith catch up with his defensive teammates whenever he does sign? And can he do it without getting injured?

Smith was drafted with the implied expectation of being a plug-and-play starter at inside linebacker, but that appears doubtful.

It’s unlikely Smith will play any preseason games with the starting defense. He could still play in the preseason finale against the Bills on Aug. 30, but that generally is a bottom-of-the-roster evaluation game in which the starters get the night off.

It also remains to be seen what kind of physical and football shape Smith is in. He presumably has been working out during his holdout, but even that isn’t known in detail and it’s unlikely he’ll arrive at Halas Hall in the football shape necessary to prepare for the regular season.

Nagy is trusting Smith on that issue.

“I think he knows that he needs to be in shape,” Nagy said after practice Saturday night.

We’ll see if that becomes an issue.


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In this era of one-a-day practices and mandatory days off, Smith has not missed as much as holdouts in a previous era did. He missed his 14th practice Saturday night as his holdout reached Day 27. In comparison, quarterback Cade McNown missed 16 practices in an 11-day holdout in 1999.

The Bears and Smith’s agency, CAA, remain at an impasse over contract language regarding protection from losing guaranteed money in the event of a suspension for on-field infractions.

General manager Ryan Pace said there were “no new developments to this point” on Thursday in an interview on the Bears’ pregame show on WBBM-AM (780) before the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It is not known whether the two sides are actively negotiating as the stalemate continues.

The Bears’ coaching staff and players have downplayed or even ignored Smith’s absence. But as it becomes more and more apparent that Smith will not be ready for the regular season, there likely is going to be some anxiety to get a player of Smith’s caliber and potential on the field.

“Yeah, but the cliche is not going to go away,” linebackers coach Glenn Pires said. “I can’t control any of that. When I wake up in the morning, all I see is Nick [Kwiatkoski] and Danny [Trevathan] and [the other linebackers in camp], and I go to work.

“I control what I control, and let’s keep working.”

Nagy deflected a question last week about his level of concern as Smith’s holdout gets deeper and deeper in training camp. And Pace has consistently avoided publicly discussing the details of the negotiations and the impact of Smith’s holdout out of respect to the player and the agent.

That’s all well and good for now. But if this thing drags on much longer, Pace will have to throw a little respect the way of Bears fans, who have every right to wonder what the hell is going on.

The stakes increase almost exponentially from here.