Bears

Bears training camp notes: Linebacker Roquan Smith returns to practice, will play out contract

Smith called negotiations ‘distasteful,’ but plans to bet on himself

Chicago Bears defensive end Robert Quinn (left) and linebacker Roquan Smith talk on the sidelines during their preseason game against Kansas City Sunday, Aug. 13, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

LAKE FOREST – Negotiations are over.

That appears to be the message Bears linebacker Roquan Smith received from the team’s front office in recent days. Smith returned to the practice field on Saturday at Halas Hall. Afterward, he said he intends to play out the final year of his contract this season.

The 25-year-old had been sitting out practice as he awaited a long-term contract extension. He served as his own agent throughout the process.

“[The negotiating process] was very distasteful, to say the least,” Smith said. “Wasn’t what I anticipated. ... [It wasn’t] like what I expected from the situation, but I’m grateful for the fans, all the loyal fans and everyone – the players, as well, in the locker room and the city of Chicago – that stood behind me throughout this process.”

Smith intends to finish the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. He will make $9.7 million this season. He wanted to have a long-term deal done prior to the season. In late July, he began sitting out practice in order to force the front office to the negotiating table. Then, about two weeks ago, Smith made a public request for the Bears to trade him. At the time, he wrote in a statement that the team undervalued him.

On Saturday, Smith said his request for a trade was denied.

“I wasn’t really looking for any type of effect,” Smith said in regards to his public statement requesting a trade. “I was just, more so, just expressing the way I felt and the way I felt about the situation and what I thought was best for me and my future.”

On Tuesday, the NFL Management Council sent a memo to all 32 teams warning them that a person contacting teams about trading for Smith wasn’t a certified agent. That person was reportedly a financial advisor named Saint Omni. On Saturday, Smith said that Omni “is someone I know, I trust and has my best interest at heart.” Smith noted that he has a small circle of trusted advisors.

Smith declined to say how much money he asked the Bears for. He does not anticipate the Bears extending any more offers prior to the season, nor does he expect to negotiate during the season.

“I see myself at a number, and they see me at a number,” Smith said. “And we couldn’t agree. We can agree to disagree. But hey, I would never accept a bad deal.”

The NFL Network reported two weeks ago that Bears general manager Ryan Poles had offered a contract that included some sort of de-escalators that aren’t common in contracts of this size.

Indianapolis’ Shaquille Leonard and San Francisco’s Fred Warner – who were both drafted in 2018 along with Smith – inked extensions in recent years that were worth more than $90 million in total and more than $19 million per season. Smith likely sought a similar size contract, if not more money.

Smith is betting on himself, and he said as much Saturday. This season will be about proving that he’s worth the type of money he’s asking for. That comes, of course, with the obvious risk of potential injury.

This saga is also far from over because when Smith’s current contract ends after the season, the Bears could simply use the franchise tag to keep him in Chicago for one more year. In theory, they could use the franchise tag as many as three times, although that is exceedingly rare. An off-ball linebacker under the franchise tag in 2023 would be projected to make about $18 million.

Smith has no regrets about representing himself through this process.

“Times are changing and I feel like players want to be at the table to have full transparency to know what’s actually going on, what’s being said,” Smith said. “A lot of people can say a lot of different things but when you’re there yourself, you see it with your own eyes, you know for a fact what’s going on.”

During his return to practice Saturday, Smith participated in individual drills, but did not play in any team sessions Saturday. He said the team did not fine him for sitting out practice.

Head coach Matt Eberflus said Smith will ramp up his participation in the coming days. Eberflus does not believe Smith is unhappy with his situation.

“He’s been in the meetings, thoroughly there, mentally there,” Eberflus said. “Asking questions in meetings, helping the younger players when he’s been out. So he’s been doing all that. So he’s been a pro that way.”

Poles, the first-year GM, was not available for comment.

Injury updates: Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker has a right hand injury and will be sidelined for a while. Eberflus provided no timetable.

Running back Khalil Herbert suffered an apparent injury during practice Saturday. He left the field and did not return. Rookie running back Trestan Ebner, who suffered an ankle injury in Thursday’s preseason game, did not practice Saturday. Neither did linebacker Caleb Johnson, who injured his knee on Thursday.

Other players sitting out practice included receiver Byron Pringle, cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and receiver Tajae Sharpe.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.