Bears

Hub Arkush: Chicago Bears potentially raise the stakes in Roquan Smith contract negotiations

Chicago Bears inside linebacker Roquan Smith waits on the snap against the Detroit Lions, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, in Detroit.

LAKE FOREST – There are a number of good reasons that 98% to 99% of NFL players are represented by professional agents in negotiating their contracts, and really only one good reason not to.

Fees for representation can be all over the board depending on the caliber of agent you hire and the variety of services they provide, but you’ll find a large plurality if not a solid majority in the 5% commission ballpark.

A $1 million deal could cost $50,000, and a $50 million deal could be $2.5 million or more. I don’t care how much money you make, that’s an awful lot of cash.

A handful of recent stars have done their own deals and saved the vig, so to speak, including Bobby Wagner, DeAndre Hopkins and Laremy Tunsil, all of whom have received solid reviews for the contracts they negotiated. Richard Sherman and Russell Okung also negotiated their own deals, and most experts believe they may have left significant money on the table.

Note, however, that only Tunsil was doing the all-important second contract for a former first-round draft pick.

So why shouldn’t a player do it himself?

Would you hire a landscaper to sell your house? A lawyer to paint it? Or a painter to represent you in a lawsuit?

The current NFL collective bargaining agreement is 456 pages, and no one without a deep knowledge of it should be negotiating an NFL contract.

The NFL salary cap has so many wrinkles that each of the 32 teams has a chief capologist whose jobs are to know it backward and forward and how to best structure and fit every single contract under it.

That is whom you’re negotiating against.

How much of an expert can we assume Roquan Smith is in those two areas?

His decision to go public Tuesday may have been strategic, but the words he chose were offensive and insulting to his negotiating partners, and they allegedly were said because they hurt his feelings and insulted him with their offer.

One thing is absolute in high-stakes financial negotiations: Nothing is ever personal, and when you let it become personal, you are no longer in the driver’s seat.

It is general manager Ryan Poles’ job to get the best players he can for the lowest possible prices, period. In doing so, he must detail why a player isn’t worth as much as he thinks he is.

It is the agent’s job to shield his player from that knowing it isn’t personal.

But Smith, in sacrificing those guardrails, got his feelings hurt, and now he may have to pay the price.

Poles said something that fascinated me Tuesday when he addressed the situation.

“I thought there was a lot of respect in where we’re at right now,” he said. “But, obviously, that’s not good enough for him and his party.”

Who or what is Smith’s party? Is it possible he was advised or pushed into some of his unfortunate word choices Tuesday?

Wednesday the Bears fired back, announcing Smith has been removed from the physically unable to perform list.

Prior, because he was on the PUP list, Smith could not be fined or punished for not practicing.

While the CBA is vague on whether just being present protects him from the standard fines for holding out – up to $40,000 a day for not practicing and 1/18th of his 2022 base salary for any exhibition game missed – there is little doubt the Bears can fine him at some level if he is present and able but refuses to practice.

And there is a new wrinkle in the current CBA: Teams used to be able to waive these fines if a deal got done, but no more.

If the fines are issued, they must be paid.

Did Smith know and understand all this before all his Monopoly money turned into real greenbacks?

What do you think?

Without seeing the offers actually on the table, I have no idea if there is a clear right or wrong here, but at the end of the day, money talks, so this suddenly very messy separation can still be salvaged.

But what looked like an obvious fait accompli a month ago now looks 50-50 or worse to end in divorce.

I am not a fan of pro sports agents in general. But why anyone would risk a $60 million, $80 million or $100 million deal within their grasp, with little or no experience in getting the best deal done, is a mystery to me.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and ShawLocal.com.