CHICAGO — Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said in a written statement that he has requested a trade after contract negotiations between himself and the organization reached an impasse.
Smith wrote a statement that was posted to social media by NFL Network on Tuesday. ESPN has confirmed the validity of these messages.
The linebacker wrote that the “new front office regime doesn’t value me here,” after Smith said he had been trying to work on an extension since April.
“They’ve refused to negotiate in good faith,” Smith wrote. “Every step of this journey has been ‘take it or leave it.’ The deal sent to me is one that would be bad for myself, and for the entire LB market if I signed it.”
Chicago general manager Ryan Poles addressed Smith’s trade request following the team’s practice at Soldier Field on Tuesday morning. Poles said his intention is still to work toward signing Smith to an extension and that the front office is “doing everything we can to get this done.”
“I’ll double down on what I’ve said before — my feelings for Roquan haven’t changed at all,” Poles said. “I think he’s a very good football player. I love the kid. I love what he’s done on the field, which makes me really disappointed with where we’re at right now. I thought we’d be in a better situation, to be completely honest with you.
“In terms of our philosophy in the front office, I’ve always believed and always will that we take care of our homegrown talent. We pay them, we take care of them, and we take everyone for what they’ve done and what they can become in the future. And with this situation, we’ve showed respect from a very early timeframe and with that said, there’s record-setting pieces of this contract that I thought was going to show him the respect that he deserves, and obviously that hasn’t been the case.
“With that said, we can’t lose sight that this isn’t about one player. My job is to build a roster that’s going to sustain success for a long period of time. At the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears.”
Since the Bears drafted him eighth overall in 2018, the former Georgia standout has 14 sacks while recording at least 101 tackles and an interception in each season he has played. Smith is set to earn $9.7 million in the final year of his rookie deal and was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list when he reported to camp in late July.
Smith, 25, accused the Bears’ front office of “trying to take advantage of me,” and said the organization “left me no choice than to request a trade that allows me to play for an organization that truly values what I bring to the table.”
The weakside linebacker position that Smith is expected to fulfill as the Bears shift from a 3-4 to 4-3 base is crucial to coach Matt Eberflus’ defense. Eberflus has had mainstays at the position throughout his career, from Sean Lee in Dallas to Shaquille Leonard in Indianapolis, the latter of whom signed a five-year contract worth $98.5 million last offseason that made him the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker.
Asked whether he has expressed to the front office the importance of having Smith in the fold, Eberflus pointed to the weight the position carries in this scheme.
“It’s documented in the defense that’s the position, right?” Eberflus said. “That’s one of the positions, that, the 3-technique, outside pass-rushers, nickel. Those guys are all very important to us, and that Will position is a cog to that.”
Eberflus said he has spoken with Smith nearly every day while the linebacker has been on the PUP list. Smith was present Tuesday at Soldier Field for the “family fest” practice despite requesting his trade just hours before. The linebacker went through rehabilitation exercises on the sideline and chatted with teammates.
In April, Smith expressed confidence that he would remain in Chicago long term with a new deal and was a full participant during voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamp. The linebacker said he wanted to be with the Bears for his entire career.
Poles articulated the same belief this offseason, saying the Bears were prioritizing an extension for Smith to remain in Chicago.
“When we engaged and we brought it, we brought it,” the general manager said. “And I thought there was a lot of respect in where we’re at right now. But obviously that’s not good enough for him and his party. But I feel like we showed respect and showed value for what he is as a football player and what he can become.”
Smith is one of a handful of notable NFL players without an agent, which comes with a unique set of challenges for the Bears’ front office.
“It’s difficult,” Poles said. “There’s emotions involved and it’s tough. It’s a very unique situation that we’ve had to deal with and I thought we’ve done a pretty good job, which again that’s why I’m a little disappointed we’re at this spot. If anything changes I’ll update you.”
At the end of his statement, Smith apologized to Bears fans while expressing little faith that negotiations would turn around.
“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,” Smith said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism