Bears LB Roquan Smith’s demand was the path of most melodrama

It’s one thing to request a trade. It’s another to issue a 343-word public screed that accuses your new bosses of being “focused on taking advantage of me” and refusing to negotiate in good faith and to demand that you be sent to an “organization that genuinely values what I bring to the table.”

SHARE Bears LB Roquan Smith’s demand was the path of most melodrama
Bears linebacker Roquan Smith speaks at Halas Hall on April 20.

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith speaks at Halas Hall on April 20.

Nam Y. Huh, AP Photos

Linebacker Roquan Smith lost his Bears playbook before he ever set foot on their practice field four years ago. Days after Smith was drafted but before he reported for rookie minicamp, someone stole the Bears’ team-issued iPad out of his BMW back home in Georgia. The team had to wipe the iPad of Vic Fangio’s plays, remotely.

Maybe it was an omen: Smith’s career was bound to be melodramatic.

He missed the first 29 days of his first training camp — 15 practices and two 2018 preseason games — while his then-agent wrestled with the Bears over contract language. He became the last person in his draft class to sign. Smith quickly injured his left hamstring and was on a snap count for the Bears’ season opener.

The next year, he was a late scratch for a Week 4 game because of what the team dubbed a “personal issue.” He said the next week he’d fly with the team to London to face the Raiders — and then refused interviews for almost four weeks.

Smith clammed up when he reported to training camp this year, too, refusing interviews after telling the team he planned to “hold in” — to participate in meetings but not practices — while he continued to negotiate a new contract for himself without the help of an agent.

And then Smith dropped a bomb Tuesday. In doing so, he again chose the path of most melodrama.

It didn’t have the intended effect. On Wednesday afternoon, the Bears took Smith off the physically unable to perform list, calling his bluff by saying he was healthy enough to play. He can’t be fined for skipping practice because he’s a “hold-in.”

Smith is a 25-year-old star, the kind of player the Bears should try to build around. But they have to wonder: If general manager Ryan Poles decides to keep Smith around for years, will the melodrama go away or get worse? Big contracts typically amplify behavior.

It’s reasonable to think Smith has grown since his rookie holdout, which began weeks after his 21st birthday. But his statement Tuesday was absolutely remarkable in its scope. It’s one thing to request a trade. It’s another to issue a 343-word public screed that accuses your new bosses of being “focused on taking advantage of me’’ and demands that you be sent to an “organization that genuinely values what I bring to the table.”

And then there was the McCaskey doozy. Smith claimed that he hadn’t spoken to the family about his contract.

“Maybe they can salvage that,” wrote Smith, who stood and watched practice Wednesday, “but right now I see no going back to the organization that I truly love.”

That delicious part of Smith’s statement leaves the door open to a return but must have felt particularly patronizing to Poles. Invoking the McCaskey family was Smith’s way of trying to go above the GM’s head to get something accomplished.

Invoking Bears greats of the past is McCaskey catnip. But to plead for chairman George McCaskey’s intervention in writing is to say the quiet part out loud — and to paint Poles into even more of a corner.

Now if an extension gets done — and it very well could in the coming weeks, as trade demands spur more extensions than actual trades— Poles will have to fight the public perception that his boss had to swoop in to save the day. The alternative for Poles is to trade the team’s best player for 80 cents on the dollar: A late 2023 first-round pick might be the best they can do.

Smith’s statement was melodramatic because he has taken his contract talks so personally, the result of not having an agent. He has no one to filter the Bears’ arguments about why they shouldn’t pay Smith. In that sense, it’s like baseball’s arbitration process when a team makes a legal argument that its player isn’t worth what he wants. It’s painful, awkward and avoidable.

If Smith had an agent, an agreement could’ve been worked out months ago.

Instead, he was left to issue a trade demand — one an agent certainly would’ve warned against — that made it clear precisely how hurt he was.

Wide receiver Darnell Mooney read about Smith’s trade demand on his way to “Family Fest’’ on Tuesday. He said Bears players know negotiation is all business — even as Smith made it clear just how personal his contract standoff had become.

“You see that all the time, with players trying to put the heat on the organization just trying to get a deal done,” Mooney said. “It’s nothing that I can do or anything, so I’m just looking from far away.”

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