Roquan Smith stands alone among his teammates

The disgruntled linebacker, who was on the sideline for the game against the Seahawks, is the lone “hold-in” remaining in the NFL after safety Derwin James signed a four-year, $76.4 million contract extension with the Chargers. Will that push the Bears to make a deal? Don’t count on it.

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Bears linebacker Roquan Smith has missed the first three weeks of training camp, but has been with the team the entire time.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times, Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Roquan Smith’s awkward “hold-in” — mostly confined to the practice fields at Halas Hall — played out on the national stage Thursday night when the Bears faced the Seahawks on ESPN. 

There was Roquan, wearing sunglasses and a Bears camo baseball hat, chatting with teammates on the sideline at Lumen Field after traveling with the team to Seattle — nine days after a stinging public trade request in which he claimed the front office “doesn’t value me,” and accused general manager Ryan Poles of not bargaining in good faith. 

He was with his teammates on one level, but all alone on another. After the Chargers signed Pro Bowl safety Derwin James to a four-year, $76.4 million contract extension Wednesday that made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL, it left Roquan as the lone hold-in at NFL training camps. 

All three of the previous hold-ins — James, 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (three years, $71.5 million) and Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (three-years, $72 million) were big winners. Would that apply the necessary pressure on the Bears to break the impasse that has the All-Pro linebacker on the sidelines through the first three weeks of camp?

Maybe, but probably not. Roquan isn’t quite in the same boat as the other hold-ins. For one thing, he’s the only one without an agent — a factor that has become more and more problematic as the hold-in has lingered. 

But Roquan differs from the other hold-ins in another way: He’s the only one looking for an extension from a new regime — a general manager who didn’t draft him and a coach he has never played for. 

The Bears know Roquan is an elite player, but they’ve never seen him in Matt Eberflus’ defense. It’s not a surprise that the Bears don’t feel the urgency other teams have had with their hold-in because they don’t know precisely what they’re missing. 

The difference was made crystal clear by Chargers coach Brandon Staley, who sounded as much like James’ agent as his coach when asked about James’ impact. 

“I don’t look at Derwin as a safety. I look at Derwin as an impact player,” Staley said. “I think if you were just looking at him as a safety, that wouldn’t be doing Derwin justice. 

“When I see him, I’m like, ‘That’s a defensive back,’ because he can play anywhere. He can play either safety spot. He can play corner. He can play Star or Money. He can rush the quarterback and make an impact as a blitzer. He can make impact in man-to-man coverage. And he can make an impact in zone defense, whether he’s playing low or high. And he’s our signal-caller and the heartbeat of our defense.” 

Anyone who has watched every game Roquan has played with the Bears over the last four years can describe him in a similar way. With Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack out most of last season, Roquan was the heartbeat of the Bears’ defense. 

But Eberflus hasn’t seen that Roquan yet and more importantly hasn’t felt that yet. So when he’s asked about Roquan’s impact, it doesn’t quite elicit the heartfelt endorsement that Brandon Staley gave James: 

“A leader, obviously a really good player, he’s put some good snaps out there,” Eberflus said when asked about Roquan at the start of training camp. “He’s played a ton of football and some really good football. So, we feel the same about that. That’s not going to change, and we anticipate that going forward, too.”

So as the Bears’ defense lined up against the Seahawks with linebackers Nick Morrow, Matt Adams (who left on the first series with a shoulder injury) and Joe Thomas in their base defense, they played as if they didn’t know what they were missing without Roquan. Because they don’t. 

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