It’s on rookie Roquan Smith to end his contract impasse with Bears
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BOURBONNAIS — The Bears’ preseason loss Thursday to the Ravens was full of messages for rookie linebacker Roquan Smith — provided Smith didn’t pull a Martellus Bennett-like stunt and refuse to watch his own team, that is.
The first message was former Bears star Brian Urlacher’s entrance. While former Ravens star Ray Lewis danced, Urlacher high-fived his way down a line of current Bears. It was a classy gesture from a member of the 2018 Hall of Fame class.
Smith should know that’s the standard. Being a linebacker for the Bears means more than making tackles. Like it or not, you will be the face of the team, one who follows in the footsteps of legends.
The second message came on the Bears’ sideline. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski didn’t play. He joined quarterback Mitch Trubisky — and every other player the Bears considered too valuable to risk injury-wise — as a spectator.
Smith should know Kwiatkoski is the starter. He earned his right to sit out a meaningless preseason game because of a strong training camp.
Another message came in the fourth quarter. Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson took off on a naked bootleg, but Bears safety Deiondre’ Hall chased him down from the opposite side of the field.
Jackson, a first-round pick who ran for 4,132 yards at Louisville and won the Heisman Trophy in 2016, was stopped before reaching a first down by a fourth-round pick in 2016 who is on the bubble with the Bears.
Smith should know that, regardless of how fast and good he was in college, the NFL level is faster and better.
On Saturday, Smith’s contract impasse reached its 20th day. At this point, certain contract language about behavior shouldn’t matter as much, especially after the Bears sided with him on the new helmet rule. The more time Smith misses, the more he falls behind and the more he has to do to win over his new teammates.
Players always know best. They know who is ready and who isn’t. They know which teammates give them the best chance to win. It happened last season. If then-coach John Fox hadn’t replaced Mike Glennon with Trubisky, he risked alienating parts of his locker room.
If Smith is the player the Bears think he is, then he will overcome his bumpy beginning. But with every day missed in camp, the impasse only looks worse for him — and him alone.
Only one person can end what coach Matt Nagy called a ‘‘stalemate,’’ and it’s Smith. He must tell his agents he wants to be in Bourbonnais, where his teammates are practicing in 90-degree heat and humidity this weekend.
To his credit, Nagy has handled the Smith situation well publicly. He has been open and honest. But Saturday felt different. He was terse when asked about Smith.
Reporter: ‘‘Coming back here and Roquan Smith is still not here, any disappointment in that?’’
Nagy: ‘‘No, it’s the same thing.’’
Reporter: ‘‘Anything new?’’
Nagy: ‘‘Nothing new.’’
Reporter: ‘‘Are you guys talking to [Smith’s agents]?’’
Nagy: ‘‘Nothing’s new with him.’’
Regardless of how similar the Bears’ defense is to Georgia’s, Smith is behind in experience and conditioning, and Nagy knows it.
When Smith was last on the field with the Bears during the offseason program, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he saw a player who was learning but ‘‘doing well.’’ Still, Smith didn’t play with the starters much then.
‘‘He’s got to earn his stripes,’’ Fangio said May 30. ‘‘He had a good-enough college career . . . to get drafted where he was, and now he’s got to prove his worth.’’
Smith has more to prove now.
The Bears often have highlighted Smith’s football character since their contract dispute with his agents began. It’s time for the leading character in that impasse to show up and play now.
‘‘I’m sure he’s dying to be here, knowing him as a football player,’’ general manager Ryan Pace said when camp opened.
Only Smith can prove Pace right.
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