What Fields told Roquan after Bears traded LB to Ravens originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For the first year-and-a-half of Justin Fields' NFL career, Roquan Smith has been one of the central pieces of the Bears' locker room.
That's no longer the case after the Bears traded the star linebacker to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday for a second- and fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and veteran linebacker A.J. Klein. After head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles met with the Bears' leadership council to inform them of the move and the reason behind it, Fields made sure to connect with Smith as he headed for Baltimore.
"We all talked about it," Fields said Wednesday of the leadership council. "We all kinda went through it, I texted Roquan and just told him, ‘Thank you for being the teammate he was to me, being the brother he was to me and everybody else.’"
The Bears' decision to trade Smith, a 25-year-old Pro Bowl linebacker, came as a shock. Poles explained the move as a product of not being able to find "common ground" with Smith in what were contentious contract extension negotiations.
Eberflus echoed that Wednesday but made it clear he would have liked Smith to be part of his defense.
“They just couldn’t find common ground," Eberflus said of Smith and Poles. "It was really the contract negotiations. Did we want him back? Sure. Yeah, we did. We made an offer to him. It was just a common-ground thing that the Bears and Ryan and Roquan couldn’t come to. So the answer is we did want him back.”
The negotiations between Smith and the Bears came down to the linebacker viewing himself in a different class of off-ball linebackers than the Bears did. Smith wanted to reset the off-ball linebacker contract market, joining the likes of Fred Warner and Shaquille Leonard at the top of the class.
But the Bears' evaluation of Smith at the WILL linebacker position in Eberflus' defense didn't match Smith's valuation of himself. Smith leads the NFL in tackles, but the Bears want more out of that position.
“Yeah, I mean, yeah, Pro Bowl, All Pro, but I would say that when you look at that, I would just say that we always base things on numbers and production and to us, we covet ball production in that position," Eberflus said when asked to compare Smith and Leonard, who played for Eberlfus in Indianapolis. "So that right there is a very important thing that will linebacker needs to do. Again, we loved Roquan. We made him an offer and they couldn’t find common ground and that’s where it went.”
With Smith gone, the Bears will look at a variety of different players to man the all-important WILL linebacker spot, starting with undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn and Joe Thomas.
After a hectic 48 hours, things went back to business as usual at Halas Hall on Wednesday, and life without Roquan Smith officially began.
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