Roquan Smith

Ravens, Roquan Smith Agree On Extension

With the Lamar Jackson situation headed toward a franchise tag, the Ravens took care of a major piece of business Tuesday. They are signing Roquan Smith to a landmark extension.

Smith and the Ravens are in agreement on a five-year, $100MM deal, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). This raises the bar for off-ball linebackers — something Smith sought during his talks with the Bears this past offseason. Smith will see $45MM guaranteed at signing and $60MM guaranteed in total. A $22.5MM signing bonus represents part of Smith’s guarantees, Aaron Wilson of KPRC tweets.

The self-represented linebacker could not come to terms with the Bears on a long-term deal ahead of the season, and the rebuilding team sent him to the Ravens for second- and fifth-round picks at the deadline. By trading for a linebacker in a contract year, the Ravens placed some pressure on themselves to come to an agreement before the legal tampering period began. The team beat that deadline by more than two months and will hang onto a player who has provided a major boost for a team that has been without Jackson for several weeks.

At the time the Ravens traded for Smith, their defense was giving up 22.9 points per game. Since the acquisition ahead of Week 9, Rapoport notes Baltimore is surrendering just 14.7 per game. The latter total is second in the NFL. For a team that has both been without Jackson and its top two wide receivers during a chunk of that stretch, Smith has provided vital assistance. On a deal that also resets the non-rush linebacker market for total and full guarantees, the 25-year-old standout is now signed through the 2027 season.

Pro Football Focus slots Smith and 2020 first-round pick Patrick Queen as top-30 off-ball linebackers this season, which doubles as the former’s first Pro Bowl campaign. The ex-Georgia standout has tallied a career-high 169 tackles, despite a midseason scheme change, and racked up 11 tackles for loss. From 2020-21, only T.J. Watt totaled more TFLs than Smith, who was believed to be seeking a deal that topped Shaquille Leonard‘s during his Bears negotiations.

It took a few additional months (and a team change) for such a contract to come together, but the ILB market now has a $20MM-per-year player. This is the eighth NFL position to see a player cross the $20MM AAV barrier (quarterback, wide receiver, tackle, guard, edge rusher, defensive tackle, cornerback). The off-ball ‘backer market began ballooning to this place because of failed Ravens negotiations with C.J. Mosley back in 2019. Mosley ended up inking a then-record-smashing $17MM-per-year deal with the Jets, and Bobby Wagner (on his third Seahawks contract), Fred Warner and Leonard topped that in the ensuing years. Leonard’s deal headlined the position’s market for over a year, and while the Colts ‘backer has a more decorated resume than Smith, the latter had unique leverage — bolstered by Baltimore’s trade and situation with Jackson.

With teams only allowed the use of one franchise tag per offseason, Jackson has always been expected to receive it. The former MVP turned down multiple extension offers from the Ravens over the past two years, with the Browns’ Deshaun Watson contract moving the goal posts for these talks. The Ravens may well need the exclusive tag — which prevents other teams from negotiating with Jackson — and that is expected to come in north of $45MM. That figure going on the Ravens’ cap sheet in March would significantly impact the team’s free agency outlook, adding to the importance of having Smith locked down early.

The Bears faced a dilemma with Smith, as all linebacker positions fall under one franchise tag price. With OLBs driving up the price, a Smith tag would have cost the Bears around $21MM. The $20MM-per-year number emerged during Smith’s contentious talks with the Bears, and while it seemed a bit high at the time, Chicago committing to a rebuild and dealing the Ryan Pace-era draftee to a team with a unique franchise tag situation on the horizon made it possible. The Ravens can keep Queen on a rookie deal through 2024, via the fifth-year option, with Tuesday’s agreement locking in the promising duo for years to come.

Trade Deadline Notes: Burns, R. Smith, 49ers

The trade deadline passed on Tuesday, but reports of near-deals and trade talks featuring high-profile players continue to trickle in. Though the NFL trade deadline may never produce the anticipation that the MLB deadline seems to generate, NFL front offices are increasingly amenable to making deals, and this year’s deadline day brought with it 10 trades and 12 players changing teams, both league records. As Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets, that type of activity is wildly popular among fans and therefore good for business, and Yates’ ESPN colleague, Adam Schefter, says multiple clubs have reached out to the league office this week to discuss the possibility of moving future deadlines to later dates.

In 2012, the league pushed the deadline back two weeks, from the Tuesday after Week 6 to the Tuesday after Week 8. Another move could see the deadline moved to sometime after Week 10 or Week 12, which would presumably produce even more trades. The idea is that, the later the deadline, the more clarity teams will have with respect to their status as a playoff contender, which will lead to more trade activity. Schefter hears that the issue will be raised at the general manager committee meetings later this month.

Now for more fallout and other notes from this year’s deadline extravaganza:

  • Teams were perhaps most interested in improving their receiving talent at the deadline, as players like Chase ClaypoolCalvin RidleyKadarius Toney, and T.J. Hockenson changed hands on or before deadline day, and big names like Brandin Cooks, Jerry Jeudy, DeAndre Hopkins, and D.J. Moore generated conversations as well. According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, the aggression on that front was inspired at least in part by a weak 2023 class of free agent receivers headlined by the likes of Jakobi Meyers, Deonte Harty, Nelson Agholor, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, and JuJu Smith-Schuster. On a related note, Joel Corry of CBS Sports believes that, if the Saints choose to move on from Michael Thomas this offseason, they may find a number of suitors, despite Thomas’ recent injury woes (Twitter link).
  • It was indeed the Rams who were willing to trade two first-round picks to the Panthers in exchange for DE Brian Burns, as Jones writes in a separate piece. Confirming prior reports, Jones says Los Angeles offered its 2024 and 2025 first-round selections — the team is without a 2023 first-round pick to due to last year’s Matthew Stafford trade — and he adds that the club also included a 2023 second-round choice in its final proposal. Carolina gave serious consideration to the offer, but it ultimately elected to hold onto Burns, which will increase the player’s leverage in offseason extension talks. Per Jones, Burns is likely to land a deal that far exceeds the $110MM pact that the Dolphins recently authorized for their own deadline acquisition, Bradley Chubb.
  • Speaking of the Panthers, we learned earlier today that the club also turned down a first-round pick for Moore. The Panthers’ reticence to trade its young talent (aside from Christian McCaffrey, of course) was on full display at the deadline, and while the decisions to retain Moore and Burns were certainly defensible, every executive with whom Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post spoke was shocked that the club did not pull the trigger on Burns. “I can’t believe they turned [the Rams’ offer] down. Now they almost have to pay him whatever he wants because everyone knows they turned down two [first-round picks] for him,” one GM said. Apparently, cornerback Donte Jackson also drew some trade interest, though another GM said the Panthers were asking too much for him as well.
  • The 49ersacquisition of McCaffrey will necessitate some “bean-counting creativity” from GM John Lynch this offseason, as Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle opines. The team’s impending cap crunch, intensified by McCaffrey’s $12MM cap hit for 2023, will make it more difficult for the club to retain QB Jimmy Garoppolo — though that may not have been in the cards anyway — and RT Mike McGlinchey.
  • Bears head coach Matt Eberflus acknowledged that one of the reasons his team traded linebacker Roquan Smith is because of Smith’s lack of ball production relative to his peers, particularly the peers who have contracts that Smith wants to top, as Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Compared to fellow 2018 draftee and three-time First Team All-Pro Shaquille Leonard, for instance, Smith has five fewer interceptions (seven), 16 fewer forced fumbles (one), and six fewer fumble recoveries (one) over the course of his career.
  • The Lionstrade of Hockenson will naturally create more playing time for second-year pro Brock Wright — who is expected to step into the starting TE role — and fifth-round rookie James Mitchell, as Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website notes. Mitchell, who is still strengthening and rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered as a collegian at Virginia Tech in 2021, has played just 21 offensive snaps this season but offers big-play upside at the tight end position.

Bears GM Ryan Poles Discusses Roquan Smith Trade

The Bears made another significant move yesterday, trading star linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens. At only 25-years-old and with a pair of All-Pro nods on his resume, Smith didn’t necessarily have to be a casualty of Chicago’s pseudo-rebuild. However, GM Ryan Poles made it clear that Smith’s contract demands meant he probably wasn’t going to be sticking around Chicago long-term.

[RELATED: Ravens To Acquire Roquan Smith From Bears]

“There’s part of me that’s bummed because this was a guy that I thought was going to be here for a long time,” Poles said (via ESPN’s Courtney Cronin). “I felt like we put a lot of effort forward to get that done, and we came up short. We couldn’t find common ground. And that’s just a part of this business, which I think we all understand.”

According to Poles, the Bears presented Smith with their final extension offer before the season. While the organization held out hope that the linebacker would reconsider, it became increasingly clear that the Bears would struggle to meet Smith’s asking price if they continued to negotiate this upcoming offseason. So, instead of seeing how things unfolded following the 2022 campaign, the team decided to be proactive and trade the linebacker now.

“The reality of it is that you have to ask yourself a question: Are we ever going to find that middle ground? And from our previous conversations, you gather that information and it felt like it was highly unlikely,” Poles said. “So then are you able to then take the opportunity to enhance your roster now? Or are you OK with the chance that he walks away and we can’t use some of that to enhance our roster. And that’s what it came down to, and I felt like we had to move forward at that time.”

As our own Sam Robinson noted yesterday, the Bears would have been hard pressed to retain Smith via the franchise tag since the player would have been attached to an edge rusher-level value. Chicago could have also played out Smith’s contract year and counted on the compensatory formula, but the two-pick return from Baltimore obviously trumps that value.

Today’s move saw Chicago add a second- and fifth-round pick, with A.J. Klein added to the deal as a throw-in. The trade came days after the Bears dealt veteran defender Robert Quinn to the Eagles.

NFC North Rumors: Smith, Corbett, Peterson, Udoh

One of the biggest headlines of the day was when Baltimore acquired Bears linebacker Roquan Smith in exchange for a second- and fifth-round pick. Lots led to this deal being made, but no one can say the Bears didn’t try to hold on to Smith.

General manager Ryan Poles claimed that the Bears made a contract offer to Smith that contained a “record-setting” piece, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Smith had been representing himself and negotiations have reportedly gone nowhere, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. Not only were the negotiations at an impasse but Adam Jahns of The Athletic tells us they were also apparently tenuous enough to change the team’s perception of Smith.

Regardless, negotiations to extend Smith will now fall on the Ravens’ shoulders, and, according to Biggs, the move shows that pretty much anyone on the Bears’ roster is fair game to be traded before tomorrow’s deadline.

Here are a few more rumors from around the NFC North, all coming out of the Twin Cities of Minnesota:

  • As the trade deadline approaches, an ideal target for the Vikings is Panthers offensive guard Austin Corbett, according to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minnesota. Minnesota was in on Corbett during his free agency this offseason but lost out to Carolina, who signed him to a three-year, $26.25MM deal. The Vikings would love to add Corbett to anchor an offensive line with several young, impressive players, but it appears that Carolina, justifiably, views him as a core player to build around for the future.
  • After throwing some shots at Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray during his in-game celebrations, Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson expressed some lingering discontentment with his former franchise, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Peterson claimed that someone in the organization used to print out emails from a fan about “how he couldn’t tackle and was washed up” and would leave the letters at his locker in Arizona. Peterson’s jabs make a little more sense with some context about his feelings towards the organization near the end of his tenure.
  • Vikings backup offensive lineman Oli Udoh was arrested last weekend after allegedly harassing a female patron then scuffling with club security at Club e11even in Miami, according to John Shipley of the Pioneer Press. Udoh and his attorney “dispute the reported facts of the incident,” according to Kevin Seifert of ESPN, and head coach Kevin O’Connell told the media that he expects a positive outcome. He participated as usual in practice this week. Udoh was a full-time starter for the Vikings last year but has functioned in a backup capacity this season with rookie second-round pick Ed Ingram taking over as the team’s starting right guard.

Ravens To Acquire Roquan Smith From Bears

3:43pm: The Bears will follow the Quinn formula with Smith’s contract. They will eat $4.8MM of the remaining $5.4MM on Smith’s deal, Schefter tweets. The Ravens’ cap situation made the Bears taking on some salary mandatory, but Chicago’s willingness to pay almost all of the money undoubtedly boosted the compensation value. Baltimore only owes Smith $575K the rest of the way.

2:29pm: Days after trading Robert Quinn to the Eagles, the Bears are making another seller move. They are sending contract-year linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter).

Smith staged a hold-in effort during training camp but returned to the team and has played well. But the Bears had stripped away most of their front-seven pieces this offseason. Quinn’s departure followed, and Smith will complete a full-on overhaul. This move also comes not long after after a report indicated the Bears would likely hang onto Smith through the deadline. The Ravens stepped up since, and the Bears will collect an interesting haul for the Ryan Pace-era draftee.

The Ravens are sending second- and fifth-round picks for Smith, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Both picks are in 2023, Schefter tweets. Chicago will receive the higher of Baltimore’s 2023 fifths, Albert Breer of SI.com notes (on Twitter). The Ravens have their own 2023 fifth and the Patriots’. The Bears will also acquire veteran linebacker A.J. Klein in the swap, Rapoport adds (via Twitter). Klein signed with the Ravens earlier this offseason. The former Saints and Bills starter stands to provide a stopgap veteran presence for the Bears, who have dealt away considerable experience on defense this year.

This represents a nice return for a linebacker that would have been difficult for the Bears to cuff via the franchise tag. Because on- and off-ball linebackers are grouped together under the tag formula, Smith would require and edge rusher-level tag sum. The team will move on, and it has now added two second-rounders, along with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in deals involving Smith, Quinn and Khalil Mack this year.

The Smith move differs from the Quinn decision, as the former is a player squarely in his prime. The Ravens will acquire a fifth-year starter who is only in his age-25 season. Smith’s 30 tackles for loss between the 2020 and ’21 seasons ranked behind only T.J. Watt. This season, Smith leads the NFL with 83 tackles. During a brief run in Matt Eberflus‘ defense, the Georgia product has added 2.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus rates Smith behind Patrick Queen, Josh Bynes and Malik Harrison for 2022, but Baltimore’s trade certainly points to the organization not putting much stock in that placement. It will bet on the former No. 8 overall pick.

Smith is playing on a $9.74MM fifth-year option. The Bears ate most of Quinn’s salary to up the price tag from the Eagles; it will be interesting to see if the rebuilding team is doing the same with Smith. Otherwise, the Ravens will be responsible for more than $5MM of Smith’s Year 5 salary. Baltimore entered Monday with less than $3MM in cap space, so a salary arrangement — or a Ravens cap adjustment — will be necessary for the team to acquire Smith.

The Ravens have Queen signed through 2023, with a fifth-year option on the table to keep him on his rookie deal through 2024. Will Queen be playing alongside a big-ticket Smith extension next year? The Ravens making this move now would suggest they are prepared to extend Smith.

Baltimore made Bobby Wagner a competitive offer this year, signaling a willingness to pay up at the position, and attempted to keep C.J. Mosley from defecting to the Jets in 2019, but a record-smashing contract nixed those hopes. The Ravens have not spent big at this position in the years since, with Queen being their top 2020s investment at the position. Smith could change that, having been seeking a deal that eclipses Shaquille Leonard‘s $19.7MM-per-year contract. Seeing the Ravens go to such a place would be interesting, but the other Raven currently on a fifth-year option complicates their Smith path.

Lamar Jackson‘s status also makes Smith an interesting Ravens trade piece. Unless the Ravens and their superstar quarterback agree to terms on an extension before the March franchise tag deadline, the former MVP will be tagged. That takes a key option away from the team re: Smith, who is scheduled to hit free agency when the 2023 tampering period opens. Like Jackson, Smith does not have an agent.

For now, however, the Ravens are giving first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald a major piece to upgrade a defense that ranks 24th in yards allowed and 20th in scoring. Smith will return to a 3-4 defense in Baltimore, after playing in 3-4 schemes for Vic Fangio, Chuck Pagano and Sean Desai. It will be interesting to see how the three-down linebacker looks with the Ravens, who will lead the AFC North regardless of the Bengals’ result Monday night.

The Bears drafted starting safety Jaquan Brisker with the second-round pick obtained for Mack, who joined Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Danny Trevathan in being replaced by a new Bears regime this offseason. The Bears entered Week 8 coming off an upset blowout of the Patriots, but they were routed in Dallas on Sunday. GM Ryan Poles has not let early-season wins over the Patriots and 49ers cloud a long-term plan, and he will have more to work with in the 2023 draft because of this seller’s approach.

Bears Not Expected To Trade LB Roquan Smith

There are doubtlessly plenty of teams interested in acquiring Bears LB Roquan Smith in advance of Tuesday’s trade deadline. Smith, though, is the midst of perhaps the best year of his career, and Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times says the team is not expected to deal its 2018 first-rounder.

Smith requested a trade in August, and he issued a statement indicating that the Bears’ front office was not negotiating a contract extension in good faith. Smith has been eligible for a new contract since the end of the 2020 campaign and is playing out the current season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, which is paying him a $9.7MM salary. However, he was reportedly pushing for an accord with an AAV of at least $20MM, a sum that would exceed the annual averages of First Team All-Pros Shaquille Leonard and Fred Warner. But unlike his fellow 2018 draftees, Smith does not have a Pro Bowl on his resume yet, let alone a First Team All-Pro selection.

Ultimately, Smith ended his training camp “hold-in” and returned to practice. At that time, we learned that Chicago GM Ryan Poles did not even initiate trade talks with other clubs, and teams that might have been interested were scared off by Smith’s contract demands. It was also reported that Smith is generally viewed as a good, but not great, defender.

Given the way he has performed this year, it is unlikely that Smith will be backing off his $20MM/year price, which could again complicate trade talks if Poles is interested in entertaining them. At this point, though, it seems as if the first-year GM views Smith — who profiles as a franchise tag candidate in 2023, despite the inevitable backlash a tag would engender — as a foundational piece that he will not move unless he is overwhelmed by an offer.

Even during his hold-in, Smith enjoyed the respect of his coaches and teammates, and nothing has changed in that regard. On the field, he currently leads the league with 78 total tackles and has added 2.5 sacks and two interceptions (he is one of just two LBs in the league with at least two picks). He has also taken every defensive snap, which is emblematic of the durability he displayed throughout his first four professional seasons.

In the interest of equal time, Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics have never been particularly high on Smith. The highest overall score he ever earned from PFF was 67.2 — a solid, if unspectacular, figure — in 2020. In 2021, he was assigned a poor 47.8 mark, and through the first seven games of 2022, his grade sits at 57.9. It is possible that the more analytically-minded front offices are the ones that do not believe Smith’s contract demands are commensurate with his abilities.

Roquan Smith Returns To Practice; Plans To Remain With Bears In 2022

AUGUST 21: Per Jeff Howe of The Athletic (subscription required), Poles never initiated trade talks with other teams, thereby suggesting that he was sincere when he said he wanted to keep Smith in Chicago. In polling rival executives, The Athletic learned that Smith is viewed as a good player, but not a great one, and his $20MM/year ask significantly dampened his trade market.

Several of those executives said if the Bears would have accepted a third-round pick in exchange for Smith, a club that believed it was a strong ILB away from a top-tier defense might have made the move and worried about the contract situation in 2023, but it does not sound like an offer of that kind was ever made.

AUGUST 20: Roquan Smith has been in plenty of headlines recently, seeking a major extension and formally requesting a trade from the Bears. The linebacker has changed course dramatically today. 

Smith returned to practice for the first time since his ‘hold-in’ began at the onset of training camp, the team noted. In conjunction with that news, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the 25-year-old “now plans to play out his contract” (Twitter link). Smith has one year remaining on his rookie pact, and will earn just over $9.7MM on the fifth-year option.

As several extension-eligible players have done this offseason, the former first-rounder has used his training camp absence as an attempt to gain leverage in contract negotiations. After the Bears tabled what he described as a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer, Smith was reported to be seeking $20MM annually – an unprecedented rate for inside linebackers.

With the Bears’ front office, now led by new general manager Ryan Poles, not reaching that compensation threshold, Smith formally requested a trade earlier this month. It appeared at that point that his days in the Windy City were numbered, but now contract talks have ceased and the Georgia alum will indeed suit up for at least one more campaign with the Bears.

One relatively unique aspect of the negotiating process is the fact that Smith has been operating without an agent. When speaking about his talks with the front office, he used the word “distasteful” to describe them (Twitter link via Adam Jahns of The Athletic). In spite of that, ESPN’s Courtney Cronin tweets that Smith was not fined by the team for his absence from camp following their decision to remove him from the active/PUP list.

“This is the last year of my deal and I’m going to bet on myself as I’ve always done,” Smith also said (Twitter link via Cronin’s colleague Adam Schefter). Smith is currently scheduled for free agency next March, but the possibility remains that the Bears use the franchise tag to keep him in the fold for at least the 2023 campaign. With a performance similar to his previous two years in particular (in which he has earned Second-Team All-Pro honors), Smith could certainly boost his market value, either for outside teams to sign him or in a tag-and-trade scenario.

“We were super excited about that with him,” head coach Matt Eberflus said, via Cronin, of Smith’s return to practice (Twitter link). “He’s ramping up to get ready to go.” Smith will be counted on as a crucial member of the rebuilding Bears’ defense, which has moved on from several expensive veterans, but his long-term future remains very much in the air.

NFC North Notes: Smith, Lions, Vikings

A strange situation may be developing in Chicago. Roquan Smith made his trade request public earlier this week, and the standout linebacker is staging a hold-in effort at Bears camp. Smith does not have an agent, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports a person claiming to represent the fifth-year defender has been contacting teams to gauge trade interest. The person calling teams is not an NFLPA-certified agent, per Florio, and the Bears have not given Smith permission to seek a trade. The team still wants to extend the two-time second-team All-Pro, even though Smith does not have much hope for salvaging this situation. A team that negotiated with this unknown Smith representative would face tampering charges. While teams are interested in the former top-10 pick, Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus does not expect a first-round pick to be offered — if it reaches the point the Bears are fielding offers.

Here is the latest from the rest of the NFC North:

  • The Lions signed veteran wide receiver Devin Funchess and converted him to tight end, a position where he spent some time while a Michigan freshman in 2012. Funchess is not a lock to make the Lions’ roster, and Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes the team may only keep three tight ends. In addition to T.J. Hockenson, Dan Campbell plans to a keep a blocking tight end and an all-purpose player. Funchess would obviously be competing for the latter spot, with Birkett adding Shane Zylstra and fifth-round pick James Mitchell are in that group as well. Garrett Griffin and Brock Wright are vying for the blocking gig. Funchess would still have practice squad eligibility, and teams can still keep 16 players on their taxi squads.
  • Detroit also brought back Jarrad Davis this offseason, but the former first-round pick is not a lock to make the team. Davis has worked with the second- and third-team defenses in training camp, per Birkett, who adds the ex-Florida standout might need to show he can be a productive special teams player to make the team. Davis logged a career-high 46% special teams snap rate with the Jets last season. The Lions are not particularly deep at linebacker, but this regime did not draft Davis, who was brought in during Jim Caldwell‘s final season under GM Bob Quinn. Davis, 27, started 45 games for the Lions from 2017-20.
  • Despite the Vikings selecting Kellen Mond in last year’s third round, they brought back Sean Mannion for another potential run as Kirk Cousins‘ backup. The two have split time behind Cousins at training camp, per the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson. They are listed as co-backups on Minnesota’s depth chart, with Mond — after a year of seasoning — seemingly having a better chance to move into the QB2 role. Under Mike Zimmer, Mond worked only with the Vikings’ third-team offense. The quarterback said earlier this offseason he played at less than full strength throughout his rookie year due to contracting COVID-19 during camp.

Roquan Smith Seeking $20MM Per Year?

Coming off the Bears’ active/PUP list Wednesday, Roquan Smith is waging a hold-in measure. In his trade request sent Tuesday, the fifth-year linebacker said the Bears have submitted a “take it or leave it offer” that would hurt the market.

The Bears are, however, negotiating with Smith himself — he does not have an agent — and Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus notes the team has come up from its initial proposal. But the team is also believed to be negotiating with a player who wants to become the NFL’s first $20MM-per-year off-ball linebacker. Smith wants a deal that pays him “at least” $20MM per annum, Kyed adds.

With first-team All-Pros Shaquille Leonard and Fred Warner positioned as the only traditional linebackers earning at least $18MM per year — at $19.7MM and $19.4MM on average, respectively — this has obviously made for a complex Bears negotiating process. Smith, 25, is a two-time second-team All-Pro.

Bears GM Ryan Poles said the team still wants to extend Smith and called some parts of the offer “record-setting,” but Smith classified the proposal as backloaded. Backloading deals to inflate AAV figures has come up this offseason. The Raiders and Dolphins used this blueprint with Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, respectively, while Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. turned down a proposal with a whopping final-year figure.

The linebacker market changed significantly three years ago, when C.J. Mosley landed a $17MM-per-year pact from the Jets. Still attached to that accord, Mosley has only seen Leonard, Warner and Bobby Wagner top that deal. The Seahawks shed Wagner’s $18MM-AAV accord from their payroll in March. Going into the 2019 offseason, Luke Kuechly‘s $12.36MM-per-year pact had stood as the linebacker standard for three years. Teams’ calculus regarding true linebackers changed thanks to the previous Jets regime’s Mosley decision. The market still only houses three linebackers making more than $15MM per year as well.

With the Bears hiring Matt Eberflus as head coach, Smith would also be transitioning to a new defense. He produced consistently in Chicago’s previous 3-4 scheme, however, racking up 302 tackles (30 for loss) and seven sacks over the past two years. The TFL number is particularly impressive. Only T.J. Watt, who plays a pass-rushing position and is coming off a season in which he matched the single-season sack record, has recorded more TFLs (44) among linebackers since 2020. Among true off-ball ‘backers, Smith’s 30 lead the field by seven in this span.

Smith’s age and production would generate a market, if the rebuilding Bears to honor his trade request. The Commanders reside as a team some in league circles believe would be a fit, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Washington used a first-round pick on Jamin Davis last year, but he struggled as a rookie. The team also has Cole Holcomb going into a contract year. The Broncos also could be a fit, per Albert Breer of SI.com. Denver may have been a better fit last year, with ex-Chicago DC Vic Fangio at the helm, but the team has been looking at linebackers recently. Of course, pursuing the likes of Anthony Barr and Joe Schobert and trading reasonable draft capital for Smith are different matters. The Broncos also do not have their first- or second-round picks in 2023, thanks to the Russell Wilson trade.

Bears Activate LB Roquan Smith

Roquan Smith‘s stay on the Bears’ active/PUP list is over. The team activated the disgruntled linebacker Wednesday. This opens the door to Smith practicing or following through with his hold-in measure.

The fifth-year defender requested a trade out of Chicago on Tuesday morning, accusing the Bears of not negotiating in good faith. Prior to Smith going on the PUP list, however, he was planning to attend practices but not participate — a tactic that is becoming standard procedure for players in negotiations or those upset about their contracts.

Indeed, Smith is not expected to practice with his teammates, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com adds (via Twitter). Teams can still fine players for attending practice and not practicing, but they have largely been reluctant to do so during the three-year run of hold-ins.

Bears GM Ryan Poles said the plan remains for the team to extend the standout middle linebacker, despite Smith’s trade request indicating he does not see a reasonable path back to his former role in the middle of Chicago’s defense. Smith’s Pro Bowl-less resume aside, he is one of the league’s top off-ball ‘backers. The two-time second-team All-Pro has not proven to be the best at his position, but that distinction does not stop players from commanding top dollar. It may well be pausing the Bears’ negotiations with their agent-less talent.

The Bears did shed four notable defender contracts this offseason, but they still have veterans Eddie Jackson and Robert Quinn on the payroll. The franchise, after building a top-tier defense around Khalil Mack, has decided to rebuild. Smith is undoubtedly angling to not only become the Bears’ highest-paid player but surpass Shaquille Leonard‘s $19.7MM-per-year contract, which currently tops the off-ball linebacker market.

This activation will prevent Smith from being placed on the reserve/PUP list to start the season, ratcheting up this situation. A 2023 franchise tag does not seem especially realistic, with on- and off-ball linebackers grouped together on the tag. The 25-year-old defender would generate trade interest. The Bears can also up their offer — something Smith said the team has been reluctant to do — to a player who stands to be a long-term cornerstone. Teams with receivers holding in resolved those situations recently. Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf and Diontae Johnson are all back at work after signing big-ticket extensions.