The Chicago Bears have moved on from two key defensive players in the span of a week. After dealing Robert Quinn to the Philadelphia Eagles last Wednesday, Chicago has now traded linebacker Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens, according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports.
Ravens Acquire Roquan Smith From Bears
The Ravens will send second and fifth-round picks to the Bears in exchange for Smith, reports Adam Schefter of ESPN. Meanwhile, Chicago will pick up all but $575,000 of Smith’s remaining $5.408 million base salary, per Schefter.
Baltimore also sent linebacker A.J. Klein to Chicago as part of the trade, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media. Let’s grade the trade from the perspective of both teams and Smith himself.
Ravens Add Smith to Defensive Front
Baltimore’s defense in 2022 hasn’t been the dominant Ravens unit that we’ve come to know in seasons prior. Under first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald, the Ravens are in the middle of the pack in terms of points and yards allowed, but they’re fifth-worst in expected points added per play.
Part of the problem has been at linebacker, where former first-round pick Patrick Queen hasn’t been very effective, especially in coverage. Meanwhile, veteran Josh Bynes has also struggled and is now banged up.
Smith is still only 25 years old, and he’s a playmaker. Tackles aren’t a great stat to measure production, but the fact that Smith is leading the NFL in tackles isn’t surprising because he’s always around the ball. In addition to those stops, he’s posted 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and three pass deflections this season.
A two-time second-team All-Pro, Smith will undoubtedly help Baltimore’s defense. Still, a second-rounder and a fifth-rounder is a steep price for an off-ball linebacker, even one of Smith’s quality.
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Plus, the Ravens have essentially backed themselves into giving Smith a hefty extension. It wouldn’t make sense for general manager Eric DeCosta to sacrifice this sort of package for a pure rental player. Baltimore probably won’t have the option of using the franchise tag on Smith unless they unexpectedly work out an extension with Lamar Jackson in the coming months.
So, are the Ravens willing to commit $20+ million annually to Smith? That’s where the linebacker market resides after recent extensions for Shaquille Leonard and Fred Warner.
If Baltimore was open to trading this level of draft capital, they might have been better off targeting more important positions. The Ravens could certainly use a wide receiver with Rashod Bateman sidelined for several weeks, or they could have acquired a pass rusher or a cornerback.
Smith is an excellent player, but this just doesn’t feel like a Ravens-esque move. Historically, Baltimore would be the team trading away the off-ball linebacker in search of a massive contract extension, not acquiring him.
Bears Accelerate Rebuild By Trading Smith
The Bears never seemed interested in extending Smith, and after they traded Quinn last week, it only made sense for Chicago to similarly move on from Smith. By doing so, they’ve set themselves up for future success.
Barring any more trades, GM Ryan Poles will head into the 2023 offseason with nine draft picks at his disposal. And he hasn’t loaded up on late Day 3 selections — the Bears will make six selections by the end of the fourth round. Those are extremely valuable picks, and they give Poles the opportunity to remake Chicago’s roster rather quickly.
Not only that, but the Bears project to have more than $120 million in available cap space next year. With that money and their array of draft capital, Chicago should be able to add talent via multiple avenues.
The Bears’ draft pick haul also gives them the option to find a new quarterback in 2023 if they decide to move on from Justin Fields. Chicago will likely end up with relatively high picks in each round, and their extra assets will allow them to move up the board if needed.
Alternatively, Poles could focus on improving every other area of the roster around Fields in order to truly give him a chance in his third NFL campaign. Chicago has needs at nearly every level of its offense and defense. They could use their ample cap space and draft picks to ameliorate those areas and make 2023 a make-or-break season for Fields.
It’s never easy to move a player like Smith, but it never made sense for the Bears to invest in an off-ball linebacker when they have so many other problem areas on their roster. Acquiring a second-round pick and more for a half-season worth of value is just good business.
Smith Moves Into the AFC Playoff Race
Today’s trade really couldn’t be any better for Smith. At long last, he’s been granted his trade request, and he’s now set up to become the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL.
Smith holds all the leverage. He and his agent know the Ravens probably won’t be able to tag him next offseason, so there’s no reason for him to accept anything below $20 million per year. If Baltimore isn’t willing to meet his asking price, he can wait and hit the open market in March.
Smith might not make as many plays for the Ravens as he did for the Bears, simply because Baltimore has better players around him. But he’s now entering a playoff race, and he’ll get to play in critical games with postseason implications down the stretch.
On a personal level, that’s good news for Smith, who intercepted a pass in his only playoff appearance. But it’s also positive on a professional level. Smith will get to star in important matchups and garner national attention for the Ravens, which will only serve to drive his price up — whether that be for Baltimore or for another team.