Bears LB Roquan Smith a question mark for training camp because of contract status

It has long seemed like a sure thing that the Bears would sign Smith to a contract extension, but it has bubbled into a significant concern.

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A photo of Bears linebacker Roquan Smith at practice in July 2021.

Bears LB Roquan Smith could miss the start of training camp as a contract holdout.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

There seemed to be little to no concern about Roquan Smith’s place in the Bears’ future, but after months of him and the team saying publicly they intended to secure him on a long-term contract extension, they’re in a standoff.

The Bears are uncertain whether Smith will report to Halas Hall on Tuesday with the rest of their veterans or practice when training camp begins Wednesday, a source said. Smith, 25, is heading into the final season of his rookie deal.

It’s the first whiff of doubt about him being a fixture for the Bears for years to come and a major test for new general manager Ryan Poles. It’s also alarming for new coach Matt Eberflus, who would open training camp without arguably his best player.

This would be the second contract holdout for Smith, who missed nearly three weeks as a rookie while sparring with the Bears over guaranteed money. Smith was with Creative Artists Agency at the time but has been going without an agent since.

There was no sign of trouble as Smith went through voluntary organized team activities this year and spoke excitedly about playing for Eberflus.

“It’s a great opportunity to be the face of the new regime and doing whatever it takes to make this the best regime in Bears history,” he said. “That’s my plan.”

As far as showing up for practices that were optional, Smith said, “I’ll always be this way. What I believe in is showing up and doing what I have to do. I don’t focus on others or anything like that. I just know what I signed up for.”

He mostly ducked questions about a contract extension, but when pressed in April on whether he envisioned being with the Bears for the long run, Smith said, “Absolutely, yeah. That’s my plan.”

Poles also has talked as though the extension were a foregone conclusion. In his first two months on the job, he made clear that Smith was essential and a contract extension would happen — preferably before the season began.

“If he’s the guy that I think he is, that’s something we have to address,” Poles said. “He’s a really good linebacker, and in this defense, there’s a good chance he’s going to have a really good year.”

Smith has had nothing but really good years since the Bears drafted him eighth overall in 2018. In four seasons, he has 524 tackles, 14 sacks and five interceptions.

While he has yet to make a Pro Bowl, there’s no question he has been excellent, and his well-rounded game has made him indispensable.

He is close to the class of All-Pros Darius Leonard of the Colts and Fred Warner of the 49ers, and based on their recent deals, Smith could expect something close to $100 million over five years.

Poles, meanwhile, has encountered a fairly unique string of challenges since taking over at the end of January. Not only did he trade Khalil Mack and his massive contract, but he has dealt with several contract-related snags.

First, he had to pull back the offer to prized free-agent defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who would have been Poles’ first big acquisition, when he failed his physical.

Last month, veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn skipped mandatory minicamp, and Eberflus offered little insight other than making it completely clear that his absence was unexcused. It’s unknown whether he’ll report Tuesday, and his agent did not return a message seeking clarity.

And second-round pick Jaquan Brisker, a safety, did not report with the rest of the rookies -Saturday and remains unsigned.

Each of these tests is enormous for Poles as a first-time general manager. His handling of any of these situations, especially Smith’s, could set a precedent for future conflicts.

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