Now that the Great Roquan Smith Contract War is over, the one that pitted brother against brother, father against mother and dog against master, perhaps Bears fans can get back to getting along. Or at least get back to more pressing matters, such as the deeper meaning of Mitch Trubisky’s new facial hair.
Smith wanted his guaranteed money to be just that, guaranteed. The Bears wanted to have the right to void his guaranteed money if he behaved badly on the football field. Everybody picked a side and yelled.
I’d like to think the Bears had a moment of temporary sanity Monday, conceded on some of the language that had tied his money to on-field behavior, agreed to a four-year, $18 million contract with him and then went back to reminiscing about the 1985 Super Bowl.
I’m writing this before team officials comment on Smith’s deal and before they tell us that the impasse was much ado about nothing, that this is the way contract discussions always go, that they adore Smith’s agents and that their first-round pick won’t miss a beat when he practices with the team after a 29-day training-camp absence.
The truth will be in there somewhere, lodged amid the happy talk about both sides respecting each other and having incredible communication throughout the process.
What we do know is that if money is called guaranteed, it should be guaranteed. It shouldn’t be vulnerable to a team’s myriad whims. Punching an opponent during a game, for example, shouldn’t leave a player in danger of losing $11 million in bonuses. But that’s what the Bears were demanding, and what they and other teams have demanded over the years.
Football isn’t a subtle sport, so let’s not be subtle. This was a stupid fight, and it was stupid when we didn’t know such clauses even existed. Both sides wanted to make Smith a line in the sand. His agents wanted to take language out of the contract that would have allowed the Bears to void his guaranteed money if he were suspended for pushing an official or another egregious act. The problem for the Bears is that Smith has been a model citizen, they really need him on the field and, oh, yeah, they had no right to that money.
There’s a reason to be suspicious of NFL teams’ motives whenever they’re contesting anything involving money. They’ve stuck it to players at every turn in a dangerous sport. For years, the league denied that concussions led to permanent brain injury. It did so because it didn’t want to be on the hook for the payouts that would come with such an admission.
That’s why Smith had so much support, though more nationally than locally. His cause wasn’t something as noble as protesting a social injustice. But fighting for what is right still counts for something. There’s no doubt his agents were looking to set a precedent that would help them later with other clients, but that doesn’t make the behavior clause any less obnoxious.
Smith surely will show up to practice in good shape, but that doesn’t mean he’ll show up in game shape. The concern is always that a player who has missed weeks of live hitting will be susceptible to injury. There’s no compelling reason for him to play in a preseason game Saturday against the Broncos.
It’s nice to be talking about actual football, isn’t it?
Hope you enjoyed it. The Bears were concerned that if they caved in to Smith, they’d have a line of future Bears asking that behavior clauses be taken out of their contracts. And players should ask for that. In a sport that glorifies violence, those clauses are ridiculous. But most young football players just want to play football and make money, and what do they care about a silly clause? So they’ll sign.
Someday, though, the Bears or another team will take back that guaranteed money — not because a player’s behavior was so outrageous but because his production wasn’t to their liking anymore. That’s part of what this is about.
The Bears did concede on contract language that would have voided Smith’s guaranteed money if he had violated the league’s fuzzy new helmet rule. Since then, the negotiations had been over the clause that would have put that money at risk for other on-field behavior issues.
Someone finally saw the light. We don’t know who blinked first, but we do know we don’t have to watch a staring contest anymore.
It’s over, guaranteed. Until next time.