Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith is Right to Hold Out on Signing Rookie Deal

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker Roquan Smith, the Chicago Bears’ No. 8 overall pick out of Georgia, remains absent for training camp and is the lone rookie who has yet to sign his contract. The dispute is a first for the NFL.

Chicago’s first-year head coach Matt Nagy told the media that Smith’s holdout is in part due to the NFL’s new helmet-to-helmet tackling rule. The new rule subjects defenders to ejection and suspension for initiating contact with the crown of the helmet, an expensive price to pay.

Smith’s representatives are arguing to change the language in the contract that surrounds guaranteed money. Under NFL rules, the Bears have the ability to void guaranteed money if Smith were to be suspended as a result of the new rule. His representatives are simply seeking language that doesn’t permit the Bears to void that money if a suspension were handed down by the league due to the new rule. Since Smith is a tackling machine, it’s not unreasonable that he wants to protect his earnings.

Fellow Chicago linebacker Danny Trevathan has a bit of experience with Smith’s situation. Trevathan received a suspension after a vicious hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams last year. The organization did not recoup guaranteed money from Trevathan, who told the media on Monday that he felt like the Bears were on his side.

In reality, Chicago might happily help their guy out if a suspension were to come down. During ongoing discussions, they’ll point toward Trevathan’s scenario and claim to treat Smith with the same loyalty. So, why won’t the organization put it in writing? Would the Bears try to recoup guaranteed money from Smith if, say, he wasn’t performing at a first round level? That’s the protection the Bears front office seems to be hiding behind.

Smith has a legitimate argument, but, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears front office is refusing to put protection of Smith’s guaranteed money in writing. The organization is trying to convince Smith and his representation to have trust in them while still retaining the ability to take back earnings – just in case. The Bears are simply seeking the right to hold that money. It’s not exactly a business decision that screams “loyalty” from the Bears. In fact, it sounds a little sketchy.

Chicago is adamant that it protects itself financially. That’s likely due to the uncertainty of how the new rule will affect the game. It won’t be easy for NFL players to adapt right away, and it stands to believe that a lot of players will lose a lot of money during the rule’s pilot season.

“It’s going to be tough,” Trevathan said. “The game’s constantly changing. But we’ve got to do what the league wants us to do right now or that’s money out of our pockets. We’ve got to be smarter with it and get better with it.”

Chicago is in a bind now. The media caught wind of this story and rushed to social media to blame the front office. General manager Ryan Pace won’t talk to the media about the dispute at all, calling it an in-house matter. At the end of the day, Bears fans want to see the team’s first-round selection on the practice field and won’t be happy to see the contract dispute drag out much longer. Smith needs to get on the field and start learning the intricacies of an NFL defense. By the time Smith joins his teammates, there will be a significant amount of catchup for the rookie. There is good news. Pace and Trevathan each expressed confidence that Smith can catch up in no time.

“We drafted him for a lot of reasons,” Pace said. “But one of the reasons was his football makeup and his football intelligence. Which is really off the charts. So he’s a guy who picks things up quickly.”

“We’ll get him up to date,” Trevathan said. “There’s a lot of stuff you can’t get unless you’re out there on that field, that’s working with the guys next to you and communicating with the person that’s going to be in with you. He’s got some catching up to do, but we’ll get him caught up. It’s no problem.”

As the team approaches its preseason opener on Thursday, the linebacker of the future remains absent because the front office won’t give protection to Smith’s guaranteed money. The future star has a legitimate gripe.