Bears unfazed by linebacker Roquan Smith’s absence

The Bears aren’t panicking as the All-Pro linebacker’s “hold-in” reached 13 days and 10 practices, and they probably don’t have to in the midst of a rebuild.

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Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said he “feels 100 percent” healthy after missing the final three games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (58) was a second-team All-Pro selection in 2021.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith’s holdout is the worst kind of contract impasse: It’s boring.

Oh, for the days when holdouts were acrimonious and antagonistic, with the player sitting at home while his teammates sweat on the practice field in training camp, the agent and general manager trading threats, the player demanding to be traded, fines piling up and the coach trying to straddle the line between supporting his player and being loyal to the organization while masking his irritation at the two sides making his job that much more difficult.

When defensive tackle Steve McMichael held out in 1990, he actually gave in and accepted the Bears’ $775,000 offer a couple of days into camp. By then, however, the Bears had pulled the offer off the table, and the holdout went on for another month. (The Bears didn’t budge on the $42,000 in fines, which went to charity.)

When linebacker Lance Briggs was unhappy with the franchise tag in 2007, he said he never would play another down for the Bears. (He played eight more years and made five more Pro Bowls.)

When return man Devin Hester held out in 2008, he threatened to sit out the season. The Bears responded by threatening to fine him $15,000 a day. (He signed an extension one day into camp.)

Smith’s holdout, which reached 13 days and 10 practices Sunday, is an entirely different deal. He’s in camp but not participating and not talking publicly. He doesn’t have an agent to leak information to the media, so there is no war of words, no threats and no worry.

Coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams appear unfazed by Smith’s absence and unconcerned that an extended holdout might affect the season. At some point, the Bears need Smith on the field. But Williams is sticking with a rationalization as old as the holdout itself: Smith’s absence gives other players an opportunity.

‘‘You gotta play with whoever you have,’’ Williams said. ‘‘That’s reality in the NFL. If you spend your entire time thinking about what you don’t have . . . you’ll be behind the eight-ball. And that’s not what we’re gonna do. We’re not gonna make excuses and reasons why we can’t. We’re gonna find reasons why we can.’’

As long as Smith eventually returns, that will work.

‘‘It’s not like it used to be,’’ said former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, now a national and local NFL analyst. ‘‘I think there was a sense of urgency more in training camp back then because we had the players for fewer days in the offseason. It was an urgency that if a guy missed that and wasn’t around much, there was a real concern. This kid [Smith] is there. He’s around. I’m sure that relaxes everybody.’’

Indeed, it does.

‘‘He’s being a professional,’’ Eberflus said of Smith last week. ‘‘He’s in the meetings, and he’s doing a good job with helping with the younger players. The big thing for him is to stay in it mentally, which he’s doing. When we’re doing walkthroughs, he’s standing behind and getting the mental reps.’’

And, truth be told, Smith’s holdout isn’t a big deal because the Bears are rebuilding. For one thing, with every player learning the new scheme, the Bears literally don’t know what they’re missing. And if you believe the 2022 season is all about developing quarterback Justin Fields and getting a high draft pick to give him an elite weapon, Smith’s status isn’t as urgent as it would have been in 2018 or as it might be next year.

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