Bears’ tone changes after healthy Roquan Smith sits out practice

When he didn’t practice — Smith walked on the field midway through Thursday’s session at Halas Hall and watched while wearing shorts and a T-shirt — coach Matt Eberflus made no effort to defend his best player’s actions.

SHARE Bears’ tone changes after healthy Roquan Smith sits out practice
The Bears drafted Roquan Smith in 2018.

The Bears linebacker Roquan Smith did not practice on Thursday.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears’ public stance on Roquan Smith’s absence changed significantly Thursday — and justifiably so, given that the linebacker’s trade request this week accused the team’s front office of failing to negotiate in good faith.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Bears took Smith off the physically unable-to-perform list. Coach Matt Eberflus said he expected Smith to practice Thursday.

When he didn’t — Smith walked on the field midway through the session at Halas Hall and watched while wearing shorts and a T-shirt — Eberflus made no effort to defend his best player’s actions.

“He did not practice,” he said. “And the reason why for that is, you’ll have to ask him.

“We expect all of our healthy players to practice, and that was his decision. Like I said, you have to ask him. I have not talked to him about it.”

The Bears made Smith aware of interview requests but ultimately refused to make him available Thursday, saying their team rules require only players who practiced to address the media — even if they are healthy. That piece of mind-numbingly circuitous logic aside, Eberflus’ message was clear: He would not explain away Smith’s refusal to practice.

Eberflus sounded different 10 days earlier, saying that Smith was “being a professional” and attending meetings and “doing a good job with helping younger players.”

On Thursday, he was asked what was gained by Smith watching practice from the sideline.

“You have to ask him,” Eberflus said. “Yeah, I’m not going to comment on that.”

Eberflus gave a similar you’ll-have-to-ask-him when asked if Smith will continue to refuse to practice without a new contract.

He said the Bears’ front office would have a conversation about whether to discipline Smith — a process that could include fines by the organization. The Bears have a disciplinary policy that discourages players from arbitrarily skipping practice.

“That’s why it’s in place,” Eberflus said. “We’ll cross that road when we get there. We’ll talk about it as an organization as we go through day by day.”

On the eve of training camp, Smith told the Bears he intended to “hold in,” wherein players avoid league-mandated fines by reporting to camp but still do not take the practice field. The Bears put him on the PUP list on report day, claiming he had an injury but refusing to detail what it was. Smith has attended meetings and every training-camp practice, sometimes riding an exercise bike before watching the rest of the session from the sideline.

Smith attended “Family Fest” at Soldier Field on Tuesday, too, just hours after he issued a statement demanding a trade. The request was particularly colorful, with Smith saying that general manager Ryan Poles’ front office “doesn’t value me.”

“I’ve been trying to get something done that’s fair since April,” he wrote. “But their focus has been on trying to take advantage of me.”

Not surprisingly, Smith was lifted from the PUP list the next day. He passed a physical and was cleared to practice Thursday.

Then he didn’t.

Smith won’t play Saturday against the Chiefs, either. It’s unclear when he’ll take the field again. Smith has one year left on his rookie deal and is looking for an extension in the five-year, $100 million range. He has little leverage, though — he has to play this season for his contract to expire after the year ends. Even then, the Bears could issue him the franchise tag for 2023.

Eberflus’ entire coaching ethos is built around effort and hustle — particularly in practice, where the Bears grade film. For Smith to be on the active roster and skip practice must be infuriating to a coach trying to establish a culture.

“You never put yourself in another man’s shoes,” Eberflus said. “His perspective may be something different. That’s where he is. I’m gonna be respectful of that.”

Maybe so. But for a change, he’s not trying to spin Smith’s absence as anything other than the disaster it has become.

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