Roquan Smith hold-in could become dangerous sideshow for young Bears

·4 min read

Schrock: Roquan's hold-in could become dangerous sideshow for Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – Matt Eberflus has preached one thing consistently since he was named head coach of the Bears.

Meeting the standard.

Eberflus, a first-time head coach, arrived in Chicago and planned to raise the level of effort, intensity, and F's given in the Bears' organization.

Star players were asked to go above and beyond, setting the pace for a relatively young roster to follow in their footsteps. Everyone from the top down must meet the standard Eberflus and his staff set for the new Bears.

Well, everyone but Roquan Smith.

A day after being removed from the PUP list, a healthy Smith, who requested a trade Tuesday amid tense contract extension negotiations, was present at Bears training camp Thursday. But even though the Bears' staff deemed him healthy, Smith didn't take the field with his teammates. Instead, he stood beside David Montgomery and Angelo Blackson on the sidelines near the training room. He watched a few snaps before disappearing out of sight.

Eberflus told the media Thursday that he expects every healthy player to participate in practice, including Smith. Contract or no contract.

The standard is not the standard, it appears, for Roquan Smith.

"I just think that you go about your business," Eberflus said when asked how he'll handle Smith's unwillingness to practice. "You treat everybody with respect. You coach on the grass what we're expecting of the guys in the meetings and on the grass. And you look at execution.
 
"For me it's about being respectful to everybody in the building. Do I certainly know what Roquan's going through? I don't know. I'm not in his chair. I don't know that. You never put yourself in another man's shoes. His perspective may be something different. That's where he is. I'm going be respectful of that."
 
Eberflus is in a tenuous position as he tries to build a winning culture as part of the foundation of his rebuild.
 
The Bears still want to extend Smith. He's a 25-year-old elite off-ball linebacker who plays a pivotal position in Eberflus' defense. He also has publicly requested a trade and now is open defiance of his head coach.
 
General manager Ryan Poles and the Bears' front office can discipline Smith for opting not to practice. Since he's a hold-in and not physically absent, it's unclear what those fines can and would be. But the Bears likely would prefer not to fine Smith, lest they risk causing an already dire situation to deteriorate further.
 
But if the Bears allow Smith to keep refusing to practice without repercussions, they risk letting it become a dangerous sideshow that can undo a lot of the hard, culture-building work they've already done.
 
Eberflus likely knows he's walking a thin line. He said Thursday he doesn't know what Smith gains by watching practice from the sidelines in shorts and a hat. He also noted that Smith's defiance might not go unchecked. The Bears just don't know their path forward yet. Or if they do, they aren't saying.
 
"I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that," Eberflus said when asked about letting the rules not apply to Smith. "I'm saying that right now today we're saying that he didn't practice, you're going to have to ask him why he didn't practice and then we're going to take it day-by-day, that's what we're saying."

Eberflus told the media they'd have to ask Smith why he didn't practice. The Bears didn't make Smith available to the media, citing a new policy about players who don't practice not being available.

Smith is the Bears' best player, and sometimes the rules are different for stars. That's understood in most walks of life. If you're valuable to your organization, you get more leeway.

But if the Bears don't extend or trade Smith soon, they risk nuking any culture-building progress they've made.

If the standard doesn't apply to Roquan Smith, and there are no consequences, why should it apply to Jaylon Johnson, Robert Quinn, or Justin Fields? How can you ask the rest of your roster to meet a standard your best player openly refuses to meet without repercussions?

The Bears want to extend Smith. They know that fining him for holding in will only make it harder to bridge the gap between the two sides.

It's a tricky line to walk, but the Bears must find a way to end the predicament as soon as possible. The longer it goes, the more dangerous Smith's situation will be to the culture Eberflus has been trying to build since Day 1.

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