After staging a hold-in at training camp, Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith has officially requested a trade. In a statement provided to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, the former first-round pick said Chicago’s front office “doesn’t value” him and has refused to “negotiate in good faith.” With no extension in sight, first-year Bears general manager Ryan Poles could decide to trade Smith to the highest bidder.
Best potential landing spots for Bears LB Roquan Smith
The Bears are undoubtedly in a rebuild. They’ve already traded Khalil Mack and let veterans like Allen Robinson and Akiem Hicks walk in free agency. Chicago is spending a league-low $160 million in cash this season — that’s $18 million less than the next-cheapest team (the Falcons) and $135 million behind the NFL’s most expensive club (the Rams).
Smith, though, is just 25 years old, so he could theoretically fit into the Bears’ long-term plans. Chicago could commit to Smith — likely at a $20 million annual price tag — and make him the focal point of Matt Eberflus’ defense for years to come. But given that Smith says the Bears are “trying to take advantage” of him, a new contract doesn’t seem likely.
Smith is due $9.735 million in 2022, the final year of his rookie deal. Any team that acquires him would likely extend him and lower his cap charge at the same time, so salary cap space probably won’t be an issue. And because he’s still so young, Smith could make sense both for contenders and for teams that simply want to add a young asset.
Let’s take a look at five teams that stand out as obvious suitors for Smith.
After acquiring Russell Wilson and bringing in several new pieces via free agency, the Broncos’ biggest remaining need is at linebacker. Denver re-signed Josey Jewell to a two-year deal to return as a starter, and Alex Singleton and Jonas Griffith are competing for the other inside linebacker role.
Smith would instantly become the Broncos’ best LB, and Denver’s scheme should make for an easy transition. New Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero comes from the Brandon Staley school, and Smith is intimately familiar with that system, given that Staley was a Bears positional coach during Smith’s rookie campaign in 2018.
Los Angeles Chargers
If we’re trying to find a scheme fit, why not just send Smith directly to Staley in Los Angeles? The Chargers are going all-in this season, and because Justin Herbert is still on his rookie contract, they can afford to take financial risk. They already acquired Mack earlier this offseason, so Smith could become the next Bear to head west.
Drue Tranquill is a solid starter at LB, but the Chargers don’t want to rely on former first-round Kenneth Murray, who’s been a disappointment since entering the league in 2020. Murray has looked lost on the field, and he’s now on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list following an ankle injury that cost him seven games in 2021. Smith would only further raise the ceiling of a Los Angeles defense that’s projected to be among the NFL’s best next season.
Speaking of underwhelming linebackers selected at the tail end of the 2020 NFL Draft, Patrick Queen has struggled over his first two years with the Ravens. Queen, who came off the board six picks after Murray, hasn’t lived up to his draft billing, but he’s still Baltimore’s LB1 by default.
The Ravens wouldn’t have to give up on Queen if they acquired Smith, but they could push veteran Josh Bynes down the depth chart while protecting themselves against another poor campaign from Queen. Smith has the instincts to be used all over the field, and he’d be an exciting new toy for first-year Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have an evident speed deficiency, both on offense and on defense. New England’s top linebacker is Ja’Whaun Bentley, a hulking 255-pounder that might have fit better in the 1990s version of the NFL. Meanwhile, Smith ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the 2018 Combine, and he has the range to play sideline to sideline. The Patriots are crying out for athleticism, and Smith could give them just that.
Plus, Smith got a smile out of Bill Belichick during a drill at Georgia’s 2018 Pro Day. If we can’t base our speculation on a Zapruder-like analysis of a six-second video clip from four years ago, what are we even doing here?
The Falcons are nominally in the same place as the Bears — a team at the outset of a full-on rebuild. But the name to remember here is Ryan Pace, the former Chicago GM who drafted Smith in 2018 and now holds a senior personnel title in Atlanta. NFL executives love to acquire their former draft picks, and Pace would surely vouch for Smith.
Falcons rookies like Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Andersen could develop down the road, but cornerback A.J. Terrell is the club’s only bona fide defensive star at the moment. Smith could become a building block as Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith continue to rework Atlanta’s roster.