Bears LB Roquan Smith requests trade as contract talks stall

Smith sees no way forward with GM Ryan Poles, though he left open the possibility of the McCaskey family stepping in to broker a solution.

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A photo of Bears linebacker Roquan Smith warming up before a game.

Roquan Smith has played for the Bears for four seasons.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Roquan Smith, arguably the Bears’ best player, said he has officially requested that the team trade him as their contract negotiations haven’t gotten anywhere.

Smith put out a long statement addressed to the City of Chicago and Bears fans in which he talked about how much he loved playing for the Bears and wanted to stay with the organization his entire career, but said that general manager Ryan Poles and the new front office “doesn’t value me.”

He went on to accuse Poles of not negotiating “in good faith” and presenting a stance of “take it or leave it” throughout their discussions. Smith left open the possibility that the McCaskey family could step in, “but as of right now I don’t see a path back to the organization that I truly love.”

Smith has been “holding in” since the start of training camp, meaning he is at the facility but not practicing. The Bears put him on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

He is entering the final season of his rookie contract, and all indications in Poles’ first few months on the job were that they’d get an extension in place before the season. Without one, he’d make $9.7 million this season and hit free agency afterward, though the Bears would have the option to use the franchise tag if they couldn’t reach an agreement.

Poles said of Smith in March, “If he’s the guy that I think he is, [an extension is] something we have to address. I think he’s a really good linebacker and in this defense ... there’s a good chance he’s going to have a really good year.” He added that he wanted to do that before the season.

Likewise, when Smith reported for voluntary spring practices, he said he “absolutely” envisioned himself being with the Bears long term.

“Resetting things and starting over fresh, new faces, new regime — I think it’s a great opportunity to be the face of the new regime and doing whatever it takes to make this the best regime in Bears history,” he said. “That’s my plan.”

As they approached training camp, though, they weren’t close to a deal and Smith wouldn’t practice. By reporting to Halas Hall, though, he cannot be fined for holding out.

Smith does not have an agent, so he has been handling his own negotiations. He said in his letter that he’d been working toward a deal since April, but Poles has been “trying to take advantage of me.” Now, he would like to go to a team that “truly values what I bring to the table.”

On the other side, as a first-year general manager, Poles is determined to establish precedent and make clear that he won’t be bullied in negotiations.

Smith has had an eye on fellow linebackers Shaquille Leonard of the Colts and Fred Warner of the 49ers, who both signed five-year extensions last summer. Leonard got $99.2 million ($52.5 million guaranteed), while Warner signed for $95.2 million ($40.5 million guaranteed).

Smith is often included with those two in the conversation about the NFL’s best players at the position, but he has not matched their accomplishments.

Leonard is a three-time all-pro, and Warner was an all-pro in 2020. Smith has yet to make a Pro Bowl.

All three hit the NFL in the 2018 draft, when the Bears took Smith No. 8 overall. He held out over his contract as a rookie, too. Since then, however, he has been everything the Bears imagined he’d be. In four seasons, Smith has 524 tackles, 14 sacks, five interceptions and a forced fumble.

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