CHICAGO – Roquan Smith is not one of the usual suspects when it comes to 25-year-old NFL superstars.
He clearly qualifies for the superstar tag with two All-Pro second-team nods and, according to CBSSports.com, as one of only six players in NFL history with 500-plus tackles, 10-plus sacks and five-plus interceptions in his first four years in the league.
When you add off-the-charts athleticism, character, intelligence, leadership and work habits, he is quite possibly one of a kind.
He also is one of few players doing all or most of his own heavy lifting when it comes to negotiating his own contract.
To date he has done a masterful job, at least in terms of controlling the narrative.
Tuesday morning he sent shock waves rumbling through Bears Nation dropping this “dirty bomb” on his boss.
“I have officially requested a trade; just writing these words is deeply painful,” Smith wrote in a statement released by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
“Unfortunately the new front office regime doesn’t value me here,” Smith later wrote. “They’ve refused to negotiate in good faith, every step of this journey has been ‘take it or leave it.’ ... I’ve been trying to get something done that’s fair since April, but their focus has been on trying to take advantage of me.”
A dirty bomb because it does include conventional explosives for high-stakes negotiations like these, but also nuclear because Smith has challenged the integrity of his negotiating adversaries, and he is obviously not a reasonable arbiter of what ultimately is “fair.”
We can’t fairly judge the worth of his disdain without knowing what actually is on the table.
We do know now that general manager Ryan Poles strongly disagrees, and his frustration and deep disappointment at this most recent turn were made clear Tuesday.
Smith deftly even plotted to leave the door open a crack when he said, “I haven’t had the chance to talk to the McCaskey family, and maybe they can salvage this, but as of right now I don’t see a path back to the organization I truly love.”
Knowing the family as I do, my guess is they do love Smith, but there is no way on Earth they’re going to step in and throw their hand-picked, seriously struggling – mainly now because of Smith – rookie GM under the bus to make Smith happy.
There are recent contracts that matter.
Indianapolis’ Shaquille Leonard, who was drafted 28 spots after Smith in 2018 but is two years older, has two All-Pro first-team nods at the Will linebacker spot in the Tampa 2 defense. He recently got five years for $98.5 million with $52.5 million practically guaranteed.
San Francisco’s Fred Warner, who was drafted 62 spots after Smith in 2018 and the same age, has one All-Pro first-team nod over Smith. He got five years for $95.225 million with only $40.5 million practically guaranteed, and he’s not switching positions either.
Lesser players, including Tennessee’s Harold Landry and the New York Jets’ C.J. Mosley, got smaller total deals but also roughly $50 million in practical guarantees.
Green Bay’s De’Vondre Campbell, however, coming off an All-Pro first-team nod over Smith last season and just turned 29 years old, inked a five-year deal for only $50 million with only $32 million practically guaranteed.
Smith’s fair-to-all-parties solution would appear to be in the vicinity of five years for $90 million to $95 million with $40 million to $45 million practically guaranteed.
If a team looking to win now – say Baltimore, Dallas or Denver – where Smith might fit like a glove was willing to part with a first- and third-round draft choice, Poles might be wise to pull the trigger.
But what if Smith goes in search of a trade and finds out there is no one out there willing to give him more or even as much as the Bears, nor willing to part with the draft capital Poles might consider fair value?
There is at least one hard truth in all of this.
While Smith has impressed by seizing and holding the high ground until now, with these situations in the NFL the team ultimately controls all the leverage, especially a rebuilding club no one expects to win for at least a couple of years if not more.
Smith might have temporarily tightened his grip on the messaging Tuesday, but it might also prove to be a strategic blunder that ultimately costs him the war.