GM Ryan Poles: Bears ‘couldn’t find common ground’ with Roquan Smith

Poles said part of him was “bummed” about the outcome, but said trading linebacker Roquan Smith was a result of the two sides being close to agreement on a contract extension before the season began.

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Bears general manager Ryan Poles agreed to trade Roquan Smith to the Ravens on Monday.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles agreed to trade Roquan Smith to the Ravens on Monday.

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Roquan Smith and Ryan Poles shared the same dream.

“I wanted to be a Bear for my entire career, help this team bring a Super Bowl back to our city,” Smith said in a statement to Bears fans in August when he grew frustrated with the contract impasse and asked to be traded.

Poles echoed that sentiment Tuesday.

“This was a guy that I thought was going to be here for a long time,” the Bears’ general manager said.

Alas, it was not to be, because while sentiment is sentiment, business is still business. Smith thought he was as good or better than the highest-paid off-the-ball linebackers in the NFL — the Colts’ Shaquille Leonard (five years, $98.5 million) and the 49ers’ Fred Warner (five years, $95.2 million). Poles did not.

Poles said it was as simple as that. So, unwilling to go through the franchise-tag shenanigans to keep Smith in Chicago beyond 2022, Poles traded him to the Ravens on Monday for second- and fifth-round draft picks in 2023 and linebacker A.J. Klein.

And he admitted to being a little “bummed” because he thought he did all he could to keep the Bears’ most accomplished player in town for a long time.

“I felt like we put a lot of effort to get that done, and we came up short. We couldn’t find common ground,” Poles said. “And that’s just part of this business, which I think we all understand.”

That doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Smith was a four-year starter and a two-time All-Pro player on his way to continuing the legacy of great linebackers in Bears history — if not Hall of Famers George Connor, Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher, then certainly the revered second tier of Joe Fortunato, Doug Buffone, Otis Wilson, Wilber Marshall and Lance Briggs.

Poles said he gave it one last shot before the start of the season, but the two sides struck out again. At that point, Poles was just waiting for the right opportunity. He found it a day before the trade deadline Tuesday.

“The reality of it is that you have to ask yourself a question — ‘Are we ever going to find the middle ground?’ ” Poles said. “And from our previous conversations, you gather that information, and it felt like it was highly unlikely.

“So are you able to then take the opportunity to enhance your roster now? Or are you OK with the chance that he walks away and we can’t use some of that [value] to enhance our roster? And that’s what it came down to, and I felt like we had to move forward at that time.”

Poles wished Smith the best with the Ravens. “I know he’s going to have a good career,” he said. And for what it’s worth, Poles appreciated that Smith has a high opinion of himself, believing he’s in a class with Leonard and Warner. But it was clear Poles didn’t agree.

“We had a difference in value. I’m not going into exactly where he slots,” Poles said. “But you want players to think highly of themselves. You want them to understand they are the best at their position. So I don’t fault him for that. But we had that conversation, and obviously it just didn’t work out.”

Poles has been aggressive in tearing down the roster he inherited from Ryan Pace, but trading Smith was his toughest call yet. And he knows it doesn’t come without risk — and that all eyes are on him more than ever now.

“Absolutely,” Poles said. “I’m the decision-maker and the leader, and you have to step up and make those decisions. If it’s not [right], then it is on me.”

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