Chicago Bears LB Roquan Smith still leading the way despite contract talks

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite having to deal with a contract extension and having a new regime, Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith’s greatness is still on display.

There aren’t too many people around the league who expect much from the Chicago Bears in 2022. This is the start of their latest rebuild. New general manager Ryan Poles had to find a way to get rid of big contracts to create salary cap flexibility.

Poles did just that, having traded away Khalil Mack’s huge contract and cutting popular veterans.

As it stands today, the Bears still have about $23.8 million in cap space for 2022, the third-most in the league. In case someone becomes available who Poles feels could fit in, he has money to spend.

Additionally, the Bears have about $99.7 million in cap space for 2023. That is the most in the league. Poles can hit free agency and pick up several top-notch players to speed up the rebuild.

To do that, however, Poles had to sacrifice something. That something is that he acquired players that haven’t exactly lit up the NFL during their time. These are players who will play hard to show they belong but might be lacking in talent.

This might be a fun team to watch in 2022, but there might not be a lot of wins to celebrate.

One of the players who will make it fun is inside linebacker Roquan Smith. Smith has been one of the top Chicago Bears and among the best linebackers in the NFL since he hit the scene in 2018.

Despite not having a Pro Bowl berth under his belt, Smith has been among the leaders in several categories season after season. Last season, he recorded a career-high 163 tackles, 12 for loss. Additionally, he had 3 sacks, a pick-six, and 3 passes defended.

In the past two seasons, Smith has 30 tackles for loss. That is the most for any off-the-ball linebacker and second only to TJ Watt for most by any linebacker.

Smith is playing in the final year of his rookie deal. Being a first-round pick, he had a fifth-year option for this season ($9.74 million) and the Bears happily picked it up. However, he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Chicago Bears fans certainly want Smith to return, but that isn’t a given. There is a new regime and they don’t have any ties to the players who were here under the previous regime. They’ve already gotten rid of most of the team’s front seven from last season.

Smith, like all the other players, has to reintroduce himself to the new coaching staff and show his skills.

Many people expect Smith to cash in after the season. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler expects him to hit the $20 million per season mark. talks between the Bears and Smith, who is acting as his agent, expect to heat up now that there is a break before training camp.

"Expect talks between the Bears and Smith to heat up some time this summer. Even other Bears players close to free agency believe Smith is the priority for Chicago and new GM Ryan Poles. Smith has worked his way into top-10 linebacker status thanks to versatility and production. He has compiled 14 sacks, 17 pass deflections and five interceptions on his way to back-to-back second-team All-Pro nods."

Many people want a deal to be done before the season begins. This is the pattern of how the Bears deal with their top players when new contract talks start. We saw what happened with wide receiver Allen Robinson two seasons ago when the Bears abandoned negotiations before the season began. Robinson got angry and it seemed that he never got over it.

Things aren’t there with Smith, however. He showed up at camp when he could have stayed away. Smith should be Poles’ top priority to resign, even though he also has a David Montgomery contract situation as well.

For his part, Smith continues to go on and act like the great player he is. He works with the new faces on the defense, like his inside linebacker mate Nicholas Morrow. Both Smith and Morrow have speed and football intelligence. They could team up to create a lot of havoc. During practices, they’ve been feeding off of each other and already look like a great pair together.

Additionally, Smith has taken to the new system by new head coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams. Instead of the 3-4 scheme, they’ve had for a while now, the Bears return to a 4-3 scheme.

Smith impressed Eberflus with how well he already knows the system.

"He’s a very good player, and we’re gonna rely on him a lot to lead the defense…You can see him in practice — he’s starting to call things out because he knows where he fits in the defense, and he’s getting more comfortable with it. And you can see him starting to turn it loose. That’s encouraging to me and Alan."

Next. USFL Defensive Player of the Year has a shot at NFL. dark

Hopefully, Smith continues to impress people once training camp begins on July 26th. Eberflus and Williams want the Monsters of the Midway defense to return. That starts with having Smith leading the way.