Timeline of Roquan Smith's tumultuous Bears season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Roquan Smith’s tumultuous 2023 campaign with the Bears came to a close on Monday when Ryan Poles traded him to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a second-round pick, a fifth-round pick and veteran linebacker A.J. Klein. It was a shocking trade of a player who seemed like a shoo-in for a big contract extension just 10 months ago, so how did we get here?
When Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace were still running the show, Smith started as the best player on defense and grew into being the best player on the team. When Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles arrived however, things changed. They installed a new defense. Smith had to learn a new system and was given more responsibilities. Most importantly, Eberflus and Poles would evaluate Smith differently from Nagy and Pace.
The new regime still praised Smith as a great player when they took over, but clearly they did not value him close to how Smith valued himself. Contract negotiations dragged past the voluntary portion of the summer program, and Smith ended up “holding-in” at training camp. He was present in the building and at meetings, but not participating in practice. The Bears did Smith a solid by putting him on the PUP list, which eliminated any questions about the team fining him for the missed time.
Things took a drastic turn on Aug. 9.
“Unfortunately, the new front office regime doesn’t value me here,” Smith wrote in the statement. “They’ve refused to negotiate in good faith, every step of this journey has been ‘take it or leave it.’ … They have left me no choice than to request a trade that allows me to play for an organization that truly values what I bring to the table.”
For a cherry on top, Smith publicly went over his new boss’ head to try to make headway with the McCaskeys.
“I haven’t had the chance to talk to the McCaskey family, and maybe they can salvage this,” Smith wrote. “But as of right now I don’t see a path back to the organization I truly love.”
Poles addressed the media that day and said his feelings towards the linebacker didn’t change. Poles still loved Smith as a player and a person, and said his intentions were still to sign him to a long-term deal. Obviously one never materialized. One month later Smith returned to practice to prepare for the preseason.
“My focus is on making this year the best year I can and then go from there,” Smith said in September. “I don’t want to look forward too much to the future or anything like that. I’m just focused on having the best year I can with my teammates and going out and playing the game I love. That’s what means the most to me.”
Except that clearly wasn’t the case. Here’s Smith again, on Oct. 26, when asked where he’s at now compared to where he was during the hold-in:
“I feel like I’m in the same head space that I was back when I asked and that was declined. I shift my focus to just being the best guy I can to the guys in the locker room. Best guy I can to myself and to the loyal fans and I just want to go out each and every week and show that I’m the best in the game. That’s just been my thing.”
Through eight weeks Smith leads the NFL with 83 tackles. He’s contributed well in the pass rush adding 2.5 sacks, and has heeded Eberflus’ call to create takeaways with two interceptions. Clearly the Bears weren’t going to pay Smith the record-breaking deal he sought at the beginning of the year, so now his wish has been granted. He’ll play for a team that will pay him more and get more chances to prove he’s the best in the game at what he does.
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