Bears unaffected by rookie Roquan Smith’s holdout — but not for long
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BOURBONNAIS — Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith, the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, missed his fifth practice Tuesday because of a contract impasse, and the Bears’ stance on the holdout hasn’t changed: He’ll get here when he gets here.
For now, the Bears can get away with their ‘‘What, me worry?’’ approach. Because they opened camp a week earlier than 30 other NFL teams to prepare for the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 2 in Canton, Ohio, they unofficially have a one-week grace period from the start of camp before Smith’s absence becomes a more serious issue.
If Smith’s holdout stretches into this weekend and beyond — when the entire league is in training camp — general manager Ryan Pace’s contention that ‘‘it isn’t necessarily abnormal’’ will lose much of its validity and Smith’s absence will become a much bigger focus. It’s not ugly yet. But after building momentum in the offseason with a coaching change and acquisitions in free agency and the draft, Pace only can play so much hardball, considering the Bears have only 14 victories in his three seasons.
The sides remain at a stalemate on the finer details of a contract that is expected to pay Smith about $18.5 million over four years, issues such as offset language (which decreases the Bears’ financial responsibility if Smith is cut and signs with another team) and cash flow (the timing of signing-bonus payouts).
With No. 2 pick Saquon Barkley of the Giants and No. 9 pick Mike McGlinchey of the 49ers signing Sunday, four of the top 10 picks have signed contracts. Momentum usually picks up as the opening of camp approaches, but that doesn’t ensure a deal with Smith this week. He is represented by the same agency that held out Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa for 31 days in 2016.
For now, Smith’s holdout takes a little of the edge off the optimism and excitement for the Bears under first-year coach Matt Nagy. But the reality is that it’s far from a dark cloud hanging over every practice. For one thing, even as the eighth overall pick, Smith isn’t a savior draft pick in the mold of running back Curtis Enis (a 25-day holdout in 1998) or quarterback Cade McNown (an 11-day holdout in 1999), who were expected to turn a bad offense into a good one. Smith, whenever he arrives, will be part of an established defense that ranked 10th in yards allowed, 11th in yards allowed per play, ninth in scoring and sixth in sacks per pass play last season without him.
Smith’s speed and versatility can take the defense to another level if he acclimates to coordinator Vic Fangio’s system quickly. But his absence isn’t preventing this defense from taking the next step. That same effect will be a factor whenever Smith signs. He’ll have to play catch-up, of course, but he’ll be surrounded by experienced players who are familiar with each other and used to playing together.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to first-round draft picks: (1) The average NFL career is relatively short, and every player should get as much as he can from the start. (2) Acclimating to the NFL is more difficult than in any other sport, so get your player into camp on time, give him the best chance to succeed and accelerate the timetable for the big payday.
The latter seems to be the better fit for Smith. On a top-10 defense in full stride, he has a better opportunity to be a big hit right away and make any offset language moot. But business is business, and Bosa’s holdout didn’t impair him one bit. So while it makes sense that Smith should arrive this week, don’t hold your breath.
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