A week after trade demand, Roquan Smith is losing momentum

The Bears’ circus will be a traveling one. Linebacker Roquan Smith, who continued to “hold in” on Tuesday by merely watching practice from the sideline, will be on the Bears’ charter flight to Seattle.

SHARE A week after trade demand, Roquan Smith is losing momentum
Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith tackles Packers running back Aaron Jones in October.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears’ circus will be a traveling one.

Linebacker Roquan Smith will be on the charter flight to Seattle on Wednesday — although he won’t play in Thursday’s preseason game, of course. Smith, who is “holding in,” has yet to practice during training camp while he continues increasingly ham-handed negotiations for a contract he hopes will be worth about $100 million over five years.

Smith is capable of almost anything athletically — chasing a receiver to the sideline, covering a running back out of the backfield or stuffing a fullback on a goal-line play. It’s what makes him one of the NFL’s best off-ball linebackers.

But over the last week, he has managed to do something far more impressive: turn a situation in which he was a sympathetic figure — fans usually side with players in contract standoffs — into one in which he comes off as a clumsy, personally slighted businessman.

As a player, he never had leverage. But after his trade demand Aug. 9, whatever momentum he had is gone.

Smith, who represents himself, has missed three practices and one preseason game since he was activated from the physically unable-to-perform list Wednesday. The Bears can fine him, but coach Matt Eberflus said Tuesday he’d keep such discipline “in-house.”

Smith has been attending team meetings, where “he’s been attentive,” fellow line-backer Nicholas Morrow said. But if he wants to be ready for the season opener against the 49ers on Sept. 11, he’ll have to be on the field by the end of the month.

He has little choice in the matter. He’s under contract and needs to play at least six games this season — or be on injured reserve during them — for this year to count. Otherwise, his contract would carry over to 2023. As it is, the Bears can give him the franchise tag in 2023 if he plays this season.

Eberflus said he believes his relationship with Smith is strong. 

“It’s important to keep the relationship and communication open and on the table,” he said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do day-to-day with all of our players.”

Still, Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles have every reason to be annoyed. Less than three hours before “Family Fest,” Smith issued a statement demanding a trade. He wrote that the Bears’ new front office, led by Poles, “doesn’t value me here” and “refused to negotiate in good faith.” The Bears’ focus “has been on trying to take advantage of me,” he wrote.

Smith isn’t the first player to demand a trade, but few have ever made their demand sound so personal. The reason: He doesn’t have an NFLPA-certified agent. The competitive fire that makes him a standout player also makes him a lousy agent, in that he took perceived slights to heart. 

Six days after the trade demand, things got even stranger. The NFL’s management council sent a memo to all 32 teams Monday alerting them that an advisor named Saint Omni was contacting teams saying he represented Smith. Omni is not an NFLPA-certified agent and cannot negotiate with the Bears or any other team. Even if he were, he couldn’t talk to teams about Smith without written permission from the Bears. The Bears haven’t given that permission.

It makes Smith look like the amateur agent he is. 

As far as football, Smith isn’t on the grass.

“Is he in the building? Yes,” Eberflus said. “Is he engaged? Yes.”

The better question: Is he a distraction? 

“I see the guys are focused,” Eberflus said. “I see that they’re ready — like I said, focused on Seattle. Focused on our first road trip together.”

Smith will have a front-row seat. Just like in practice, though, he’ll have to stay on the sideline.

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