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Bears mum as rookie Roquan Smith’s holdout becomes second-longest of new CBA

BOURBONNAIS — The Bears approached another disappointing milestone in rookie linebacker Roquan Smith’s holdout Tuesday. After Smith missed his 10th practice, the Bears likely will head into their preseason opener Thursday night against the Ravens in the Hall of Fame Game without the eighth overall pick of the draft.

“It is at a stalemate,” coach Matt Nagy said. “But, at the same time, I’m not going to get into where it’s at publicly. I don’t think it’s fair to him. I don’t think it’s fair to his agent. I don’t think it’s fair to our organization. We’re going to keep it between us. I think that’s the best thing to do now.”

That might work for now. But if this impasse goes on much longer, the Bears — who have lost 10 games or more in four consecutive seasons and haven’t made the playoffs in the last seven — will face more pressure to explain publicly why they haven’t signed Smith.

This is no longer “part of the process” or business as usual. Since the 2011 collective-bargaining agreement created a slotted salary structure for draft picks, only 10 of the 256 first-round picks have held out — only four in the last five years. Under the current CBA, Smith’s holdout is the second-longest behind Joey Bosa’s 31-day holdout before signing with the Chargers in 2016.

Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick of the 2018 draft, has missed 27 days, 14 practices and two preseason because of a contract impasse. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP photo

Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick of the 2018 draft, has missed 27 days, 14 practices and two preseason because of a contract impasse. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP photo

For now, the Bears are not in panic mode. Smith has missed 15 days and 10 practices. But the Bears still have four preseason games after playing the Ravens and 38 days left before their regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was not about to fan the flames of the dispute when he spoke to the media for the first time since May 30.

“Obviously, it’s not advantageous to anybody that he’s not here, and I’ll just leave it at that,” Fangio said. “Talk to Ryan [Pace] and his salary-cap guys about [Smith].”

Asked about his concern that Smith — considered a strong candidate to start from Week 1 — might not be ready for the season opener, Fangio barely budged.

“I’m always concerned about everything,” he said. “But great ones adjust. We’ll adjust.”

Fangio knows how to make do. He had a top-10 defense last season despite several starters missing games, including linebackers Jerrell Freeman (15), Willie Young (12), Leonard Floyd (six) and Pernell McPhee (three). But Smith has the potential to make an immediate impact and help raise the Bears to another level.

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“He has the potential to be a good player, a really good player,” Fangio said. “He has good instincts for the position, understands the game. That’s always a good place to start.”

Smith likely would not have been a big factor in Thursday night’s game.

“To me, the preseason is all about preparing your team for the season,” Fangio said. “Part of preparing your team for the season is making sure you pick the right 53 guys. We’re heavy into evaluation in this game.”

Smith’s absence has been tough to gauge because he’s new to the team. For now, he has the support of his teammates.

“I’m excited for when he gets out here,” said linebacker Sam Acho, the team’s player representative for the NFLPA. “He can take his time, man. I’ve got his back regardless. I think everybody on this team does. I can speak for everyone on the team when I say that.”

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