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A fight to the finish: Why there is more to Bears’ impasse with Roquan Smith

It always takes two to tango. So while the Bears have endured the brunt of the criticism for their contract impasse with rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, it’s important to look at the history of the other side, too.

The NFL Players’ Association identifies Smith’s representatives as Brian Ayrault, Ben Renzin and Todd France from the Creative Artists Agency, a powerhouse in the football world.

ANALYSIS

Ayrault is believed to be leading the negotiations from CAA’s end. He also was the leading agent for defensive end Joey Bosa during Bosa’s 31-day impasse with the Chargers in 2016.

Roquan Smith was the Bears' first-round pick. | AP Photo

Roquan Smith was the Bears' first-round pick. | AP Photo

As for Smith, the contract standoff always has involved more than the NFL’s new helmet rule and the rookie’s related guarantees, a source familiar with the negotiations said. When it comes to concessions, it makes sense for the Bears to help Smith, who was drafted because of his exceptional tackling ability, speed and range.

The Bears already established a precedent by not going after linebacker Danny Trevathan’s guarantees after he was suspended one game last season for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams, though such protections weren’t written in his contract.

But budging on other language, including when it involves behavior, is another issue. It’s why league sources have said that many around the NFL are closely monitoring what happens with the Bears and Smith. It’s a fight worth watching because a new precedent might be set.

One league source suggested that CAA wanted to reach this point — an impasse that generates negative headlines for the Bears. A source close to the Bears’ front office said there has been a lot of “posturing.”

“CAA is just using its big stick,” one longtime agent said.

Beyond Bosa, Ayrault and France were involved in other rookie contract impasses — ones that occurred under the most recent collective-bargaining agreement that installed a rookie wage scale.

With France as his agent, current Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara had a six-day impasse with the Giants in 2011, the first year of the new rules for rookie contracts. France still represents Amukamara.

Former NFL receiver Justin Blackmon’s 12-day impasse with the Jaguars in 2012 is another example. France joined forces with Ayrault before negotiations with Blackmon, who is now out of the league.

According to past reports, Terry Pegula, the current owner of the Bills, purchased France’s agency in December 2011. It was essentially merged with Ayrault’s own agency. Ayrault is considered a long-time friend of Pegula’s.

Ayrault, France and Renzin also are listed as the agents for Bills rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, the 16th overall pick who was signed by Pegula’s Bills 17 days after the draft.

According to The Athletic, the Bills conceded to language pertaining to the new helmet rule and Edmunds’ guarantees. But the Bills still can void Edmunds’ guarantees if he is suspended for an “egregious” amount of games.

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What does all this mean for the Bears?

As coach Matt Nagy said, they’re in a “stalemate.” The Bears are negotiating with agents who have experience being in them. Ayrault and France also represent Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is holding out from training camp for the second consecutive year.

But there is more to the impasse to Smith than the NFL’s new helmet rule.

As general manager Ryan Pace alluded to during a recent appearance on WMVP-AM 1000, “sometimes all the details aren’t maybe fully out there.” Those details will emerge in time.

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