Roquan Smith’s return: LB signs with Bears, calls standoff part of ‘business’
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Bears coach Matt Nagy’s greeting for rookie linebacker Roquan Smith was simple Tuesday.
‘‘Welcome here,’’ he said. ‘‘Are you ready to play some ball?’’
Smith, whose 29-day holdout was the second-longest under the current collective-bargaining agreement, responded: ‘‘Yeah.’’
After the Bears’ practice, Smith was just as tight-lipped about the contract standoff, which officially ended when he signed his four-year, $18.4 million deal. General manager Ryan Pace and Smith’s representatives at Creative Artists Agency had disagreed about whether the Bears could void guarantees in Smith’s contract for suspensions as a result of on-field actions.
If Smith, the No. 8 overall pick last spring, was passionate about the reasons for his holdout, he didn’t show it. Nine times in a five-minute span, Smith answered questions about his holdout by giving some version of the same explanation — that it was ‘‘between my agent and Mr. Pace.’’
Smith said he didn’t give his agent a mandate to end the standoff — he arrived in time to participate in a brief practice and fly with the Bears to Denver — but he didn’t regret missing camp, either.
‘‘That’s just the business side of things,’’ said Smith, who waited out the impasse at his home in Athens, Georgia. ‘‘It is what it is. And I’m just happy to be here now.’’
The sides agreed to a compromise, sources confirmed. The Bears only can go after Smith’s contract guarantees if the NFL gives him a three-game suspension as the consequence of a single football play, such as violating its new use-of-helmet rule or an illegal hit.
If Smith is defending himself or a teammate while on the field, the Bears can’t void his guarantees unless he receives a two-game suspension from the NFL for a single action. The deal protects Smith in the case of a fight.
Historically, the NFL has limited its fighting suspensions to one game. Even if Smith is suspended for one game many times, he won’t lose his guarantees.
Unless Smith somehow morphs into the new Vontaze Burfict — and there’s no reason to think he will — it’s highly unlikely he will receive a multigame suspension for his on-field actions.
The disagreement about such hypothetical situations revolved around the Bears not wanting to set a precedent and CAA agents Brian Ayrault and Todd France wanting to protect their player — and to be able to recruit new ones because of the small gains they made in contract leverage.
The Bears gave Smith language in his deal that his teammates don’t have, but they maintained their right to come after guaranteed money in some rare situations.
‘‘I appreciate both sides — Roquan’s side and Ryan [Pace] and [negotiator] Joey [Laine] and our management,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘In the end, they came together and got something that worked out. And here we go.’’
It’s why Nagy made sure practice didn’t stop just because Smith was on the field.
‘‘We saw him for the first time, and we just kind of kept going,’’ he said. ‘‘Like, not that nothing happened, but we’re here. Why harp on what just happened? Let’s go. You’re here. Our team’s here. That’s all that matters. Put it to the side and let’s go play football.’’
After becoming the last NFL rookie to sign his contract, Smith said he is ready to do the same when the Bears hold the first of their two joint practices Wednesday against the Broncos in suburban Denver.
‘‘It’s a great feeling just to be back out here with my teammates, getting back into rhythm,’’ Smith said.