Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith is betting on himself and breaks silence on ‘distasteful’ contract talks

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Roquan Smith returned to practice Saturday after starting training camp on the PUP list.

Roquan Smith was introspective Saturday night, providing a detailed window into the major disconnect between himself and the Chicago Bears.

It was a moment of candor that underscored where things stand between the Pro Bowl linebacker, one of the game’s best defenders, and an organization that won’t comply with what he wants contractually.

Roquan Smith: ‘I’m going to bet on myself’

Where this leaves Smith and the Bears is a bit awkward, to say the least. The good news is that he returned to practice Saturday and intends to play for them this season, committing during a conversation with coach Matt Eberflus to give it his all on the field.

The bad news is Smith wants to play out the final year of the deal and doesn’t want to engage in any more contract negotiations. The Bears have declined his trade request, so he’ll be playing for them for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps Smith will wind up as their franchise player next season or be allowed to leave as a free agent. Talks could be rekindled if the Bears change their stance on the structure of a deal, not backloading the offer as they did previously, per league sources, and eliminate the de-escalator clauses in their offers to Smith.

“It didn’t go the way I planned for it to go,” Smith said. “I thought it was very distasteful, to say the least. It wasn’t what I anticipated or expected from the situation. I’m grateful for all the loyal fans and players in the locker room that stood behind me in this process. I’m now shifting my focus to the season and focused on being the best teammate I can be.

“This is the last year of my deal. I’m going to bet on myself like I’ve always done. Negotiations are over right now. I’m just focused on the season and being the best Bear I can be.

“That’s correct, I’m betting on myself. Obviously, the talks didn’t go far. It didn’t end the way I wanted them to. At the end of the year, this is a big season for myself. At the end of the season, it could go in a lot of different directions. I need to put myself and my body in the best situation for success. I need to get ready for the season.

“The conversations, it’s over. I see myself at a number. They see me at a number. We couldn’t agree. I would never accept a bad deal. It wasn’t the number I needed or wanted. My number and their number, it wasn’t the same. That’s all I can say on that.”

After previously being repped by Todd France, Smith does not have an agent and represents himself. He is advised by Saint Omni, a financial advisor. The NFL sent out a memo to all 32 NFL teams reminding them to not discuss trades with anyone not authorized in writing by a team to discuss a potential trade and to not discuss trades with an uncertified NFL agent.

The memo stated: “That a person by the name of Saint Omni, who is not an NFLPA certified agent, is contacting clubs indicating that he is representing Roquan Smith, who is under contract to the Chicago Bears. Mr. Omni is prohibited from negotiating player contracts or discussing potential trades on behalf of any NFL player or prospective player or assisting in or advising with respect to such negotiations.”

Omni is a veteran financial advisor who has advised other NFL players, including Houston Texans Pro Bowl offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who have represented themselves without an agent. Players are allowed to receive financial advice in contract talks by outside advisors, as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is doing without a formal agent.

“I really learned how the business really works,” Smith said. “I have a team of advisors. Saint is someone I know and trust to have my best interests at heart.

“No, I don’t regret not having an agent. That’s just a bunch of excuses people say. Time has changed. Players want full transparency. When you see it with your own eyes, you see it for yourself.”

Where talks broke down between Bears, Smith

Entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, Smith began training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The 2018 first-round pick was removed from the reserve list on Aug. 10 but hadn’t practiced until Saturday after talking with Eberflus.

“I think for anyone in a deal, the most important things are guaranteed money,” Smith said. “How many people have de-escalators? How many people do you see have de-escalators in their contracts. The franchise tag should be a nice number. That wouldn’t be bad. We’ll get there when I get there.”

What about a trade? Smith downplayed those chances.

“Well, that was declined,” he said. “So, I think my focus has to shift. I have a contract to fulfill.”

Hard feelings remain on Smith’s part

How Smith feels about the Bears and this simmering situation is instructive. He’s made it abundantly clear that he’s not happy about what happened. More importantly, Smith didn’t sound like someone who wanted to be in Chicago on a long-term basis unless they significantly change their approach to any future talks.

“It was very emotional for me,” said Smith, who issued a statement requesting a trade. “Normally, I don’t tend to voice my opinion. I thought it was time for me to do that. I wanted it to be known. There’s no more offers at this time. I don’t think there will be during the season. It’s been an amazing four years. My full intention is to play this season and whatever happens, happens.

“I think it was more so not coming to an agreement when I feel I busted my ass for so long and not being rewarded with something I feel I justly deserved. You get a sense you should be rewarded. I’m moving past it now.”

Smith, due $9 million this year in the final year of his rookie contract, is definitely due for a major increase in pay. Smith wants to become the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL and exceed Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard’s five-year, $99.2 million contract signed last year.

Where do things go next?

What’s not in question are Smith’s skills. He’s an excellent linebacker who has recorded 524 career tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and 14 sacks in 61 career games since being drafted eighth overall out of Georgia in 2018.

Smith is a hard-hitting, versatile, athletic linebacker who isn’t currently being compensated at a level that reflects his status as one of the top defensive players in the NFL. That can change in the future, but the Bears and Smith have to get on the same page for that goal to be accomplished.

How do the Bears and Smith go forward?

“I would say my loyalty lies with the city of Chicago, loyal fans, guys in the locker room I put blood sweat and tears on the line with every day,” Smith said. “I’m focused on those guys. I chatted with coach Flus. We have a relationship. We discussed the plan. He respected that.”

What the Bears are saying

This has become a battle of wills between the Bears’ front office and one of the better players to play for Chicago in recent years.

Smith is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 after recording 163 tackles, three sacks, and one interception last season. The Bears, of course, could designate him as their franchise player, but it’s hard to see that happening given the tenor of this unfinished business between the NFC North franchise and one of their most talented players.

Bears general manager Ryan Poles, who was hired this offseason, recently weighed in on the Smith situation.

“I’ll double down on what I’ve said before. My feelings for Roquan haven’t changed at all,” said Poles. “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 time frame, and with that said, there’s record-setting pieces of this contract that I thought was going to show him the respect he deserves, and obviously, that hasn’t been the case.”

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