Will the Bears win the Roquan Smith ‘trade’?

Unwilling to meet Smith’s price, the Bears replaced him with free-agent LB Tremaine Edmunds, rookie DT Gervon Dexter, rookie LB Noah Sewell — and a $2-million-a-year savings in salary. It’s risky to give up on a player of Smith’s ability, but it might work out.

SHARE Will the Bears win the Roquan Smith ‘trade’?
Chicago Bears Offseason Workout

Bears middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who signed a four-year, $72-million contract in free agency, effectively replaces two-time All-Pro Roquan Smith in the Bears’ defense.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Of the myriad holes in the Bears’ roster after general manager Ryan Poles’ first season, the biggest one was particularly self-inflicted. Poles traded second-team All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens at midseason after failing to agree to terms on a long-term contract with him.

It was the most curious move of a roster teardown that was otherwise welcome and necessary after Poles and coach Matt Eberflus were hired in January 2022. Smith was pound-for-pound the best player on the roster they inherited. He was a proven All-Pro-caliber player — by the eye test and most analytics. He was still only 25 after four NFL seasons. And, not to be discounted, he was on the doorstep of Bears royalty as a standout linebacker, following the lineage of Hall of Famers George Connor, Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher.

That’s often the kind of player a new regime builds around, as Poles and Eberflus did on offense with quarterback Justin Fields. But Poles and Eberflus never embraced Smith and viewed him much more objectively than emotionally.

And as it turned out, while the contract impasse played a key role in Smith’s departure, he just wasn’t their type of guy. After Eberflus pointed to ‘‘ball production’’ as the key reason Smith wasn’t worth the $20 million-a-year deal he was looking for, the Bears replaced him with a player who has had even less ball production than Smith.

Tremaine Edmunds, the former Bills linebacker the Bears signed to a four-year, $72 million contract, has seven takeaways in five NFL seasons. Smith had eight in four-plus seasons with the Bears.

Be that as it may, Poles likes the fit of the 6-5, 250-pound Edmunds in Eberflus’ scheme — especially in pass coverage. Edmunds, who made the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020 with the Bills, has 35 pass breakups in five seasons. The 6-1, 236-pound Smith has 23.

‘‘The length, the speed, the coverage ability in terms of just the space that he covers,’’ Poles said. ‘‘And Matt and his group think they can take him over the edge with some of the ball production.’’

It remains to be seen whether Edmunds will be a better fit for Eberflus’ defense than Smith was. But even to staunch Smith backers, the totality of Poles’ exchange is intriguing. Here’s what he got:

• Edmunds, a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker.

• A $2 million savings in annual average contract value.

• Rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, whom he selected with the second-round pick (No. 53) he acquired from the Ravens.

• Rookie linebacker Noah Sewell, whom he drafted with the fifth-round pick (No. 148) he acquired from the Ravens.

Already, Bears coaches and teammates have raved about Edmunds’ size and athleticism.

‘‘Boy, is Tremaine long,’’ defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. ‘‘A lot of width. A lot of height. A lot of speed.’’

For what it’s worth, however, Eberflus, Williams and others have been most impressed with Edmunds’ leadership — a key factor in Poles decision to replace Smith. The Bears’ defense clearly felt the loss of Smith, perhaps as much emotionally as physically. The Bears went 0-9, and their defense plummeted from 16th to 29th in yards allowed and from 19th to 32nd in points allowed after Smith was traded.

‘‘[Edmunds] really takes command in the defensive room,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘He gives great suggestions, and he’s very smart.’’

Dexter might be the most intriguing part of the deal. The 6-6, 312-pound defensive tackle needs a little bit of work to transition from the defense he played at Florida to Eberflus’ scheme, but with his athletic ability — he was ranked ahead of Eagles rookie Jalen Carter coming out of high school — the Bears are excited about his potential, either at 3-technique or nose tackle.

Dexter will be a prime test of the coaching staff’s ability to develop a talented player to max out in Eberflus’ scheme. He figures to be in the rotation at defensive tackle from the start, with the potential for a starter’s snap counts, depending on how quickly he adapts. He already has one thing going for him: He looks to be a H.I.T.S. principle guy.

‘‘What I like most about him is his hustle; man, he hustles,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘He’s got his track shoes on and he’s running out there, which is great to see from a guy who is [6-6 and 312].’’

The 6-2, 246-pound Sewell, a brother of Lions Pro Bowl offensive tackle Penei Sewell, comes with some intrigue of his own. He was a former five-star high school player whose draft stock suffered in 2022 with a new coaching staff at Oregon.

‘‘He’s really instinctive,’’ linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said. ‘‘He’s around the ball. He’s got good instincts. He’s a bigger guy, strong. He’s a really strong tackler. He’s got strong hands. He’s got a lot of upside.’’

With Jack Sanborn still recovering from an ankle injury suffered Dec. 18 against the Eagles, Sewell got a good look in the offseason program and made plays. But Sanborn is still the starter as he works his way back at camp, ‘‘and then we’ll see what Noah can do to press him,’’ Eberflus said.

Dexter and Sewell give Poles additional personnel value to make the Smith-for-Edmunds ‘‘trade’’ work out. But the deal will be a high-profile test of Poles’ ability to find the right players for Eberflus’ defense and of the ability of Eberflus and his staff to make the most of what they’ve got.

The Latest
Leaders of the “One Future Illinois” PAC include business heavyweights who’ve held prominent positions in city and state government, such as investment banker Steve Koch, a deputy mayor under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Ruiz, a former deputy governor for education for Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
I enjoy the steps in trying a new urban waterway, almost as much as the fishing itself. Urban waterways are unique experiences that seem a space apart.
The acidity of the Champagne cuts through the fat and salt or the potatoes, while the fat and salt balances the acidity.
Curly? Steak? Waffle? Crinkle cut? There is cause for debate around which particular french fry is best.
Bowman returns to an official NHL post for the first time since 2021, when he resigned as Hawks GM during the sexual assault scandal.