LAKE FOREST, Illinois — During the first year and a half of Justin Fields’ NFL career, Roquan Smith was a central figure in the Bears’ locker room.
That’s no longer the case after the Bears traded the star linebacker to the Baltimore Ravens Monday for a second- and fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and veteran linebacker AJ Klein. After head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles met with the Bears leadership council to update them on the move and the reason for it, Fields made sure to get in touch with Smith when he drove to Baltimore.
“We’ve all talked about it,” Fields said Wednesday at the leadership council. “We kind of all went through it, I texted Roquan and just said to him, ‘Thank you for being the teammate he was to me, the brother he was to me and everyone else.'”
The Bears’ decision to trade Smith, a 25-year-old Pro Bowl linebacker, came as a shock. The Poles explained the step by saying that they could not find an “agreement” with Smith in the controversial contract extension negotiations.
Eberflus repeated this Wednesday but made it clear he would have liked Smith to have been 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? Secure. Yes we have got that. We made him an offer. It was just a common thing that the bears and Ryan and Roquan couldn’t come to. So the answer is, we wanted him back.”
Negotiations between Smith and the Bears resulted in the linebacker seeing himself in a different class of off-ball linebacker than the Bears. Smith wanted to reset the off-ball linebacker contract market and join the top of the class with the likes of Fred Warner and Shaquille Leonard.
But Smith’s assessment of the Bears at the WILL linebacker position on Eberflus’ defense didn’t agree with Smith’s self-assessment. Smith leads the NFL in tackles, but the Bears want more from that position.
“Yeah I mean yeah Pro Bowl All Pro but I would say if you look at that I would just say we always base things on numbers and production and for us we covet ball production in this one Position. said Eberflus when asked to compare Smith and Leonard, who played for Eberlfus at Indianapolis. “So that’s a very important thing that every linebacker has to do. Again, we loved Roquan. We made him an offer and they couldn’t find common ground and there it went.”
RELATED: Trading ‘Explosive’ Claypool Signals Bears Believe in Fields
With Smith gone, the Bears will be considering a variety of different players to fill the all-important WILL linebacker spot, starting with undrafted rookies Jack Sanborn and Joe Thomas.
After a hectic 48 hours, Halas Hall was back to business as usual on Wednesday, and life without Roquan Smith officially began.
Click here to follow the Under Center Podcast.
Download MyTeams today!