Bears GM Ryan Poles to ‘work on relationship’ with LB Roquan Smith in hopes of contract

Smith said he’s done listening to the Bears’ offers, but Poles still believes the relationship can be saved.

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A photo of Bears general manager Ryan Poles watching warmups at a recent preseason game.

Ryan Poles is in his first season as Bears general manager.


In the long-running rift between Bears general manager Ryan Poles and his best player, linebacker Roquan Smith, both sides have done extensive damage.

It turned ugly behind the scenes as Poles told Smith he wasn’t worth the payday he sought, then the mess spilled into the public when Smith opted to “hold in” during training camp, demanded a trade and fired off sharp criticisms of Poles.

Poles won the battle when Smith conceded and returned to practice without a cent of new money, but there’s more at stake.

Smith made his intention clear: He’ll play out the last season of his contract and get his money in free agency. He reiterated Wednesday that the Bears shouldn’t bother making more offers.

But Poles believes he can fix it. The relationship can be saved — not just tenuously held together to survive this season.

“First of all, he’s a good player — that’s never changed,” Poles said Thursday. “And he’s a good dude. I have faith that he’s gonna have a good year, and we’ll work on our relationship and all that.

“It’s not even a bad thing, either. We’ve all been there, right? You have disagreements, and you have to come back together and be teammates.”

This clash is definitely a bad thing if it leads to Smith’s departure.

While Smith has yet to make a Pro Bowl, he has vaulted himself into elite status. He has the versatility to play in coverage, stop the run and blitz. He was on the field for 95% of the Bears’ defensive plays the last two seasons.

In the four seasons since the team drafted him No. 8 overall, he has 524 tackles, 14 sacks and five interceptions. His play puts him in line for a five-year extension worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million.

Smith is what every team wants at the position, and he’s at the beginning of his prime at 25 as he steps into a defense that should make him even better. This is somebody Poles would be wise to keep.

Aside from facilitating quarterback Justin Fields’ development, making peace with Smith will be Poles’ most prominent and pivotal challenge during the rebuild. He could get a hefty return for him in a trade, but why give up a fully formed star for the risky proposition of trying to find one in the draft?

That question pushes the pressure back on Poles because all Smith has to do is play like he has throughout his career and wait for offers to pile up in the spring. He seemed free from frustration as he eyed the Sept. 11 season opener, the start of his campaign for a nine-figure contract.

“I’ll never let anyone or anything take the fun away from me,” Smith said. “Been having fun since I was a kid, so nothing is going to stop that.”

One of the most significant complications in the negotiations is that Smith doesn’t have an agent. So that means when he says he’s done discussing a deal, that’s the definitive word. Poles has no back channel.

It also means there hasn’t been anyone to filter and moderate their talks. When Poles has laid out his case against giving Smith a giant contract, it has been directly to him. Those critiques can be difficult to absorb.

Likewise, Smith blasted Poles’ approach as “distasteful” and accused him of trying to take advantage of him with “take-it-or-leave-it” offers. While Poles said many times that he wanted to give Smith an extension, Smith said the Poles-led front office “doesn’t value me.”

“It’s human nature,” Poles said of Smith’s barbs. “When things happen and two sides don’t agree on something, it’s gonna take a little time [to repair]. I’ve got a lot of faith that that’s going to happen.”

Poles has navigated this situation well so far, but it’ll take a lot of finesse to get the outcome he needs.

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