Lessons Learned from the Great Roquan Smith Standoff

Lessons Learned from the Great Roquan Smith Standoff

Roquan Smith’s return to practice ended another of the problem situations general manager Ryan Poles encountered in his first year.

The entire hold-in process showed how little leverage a player has in such situations while also underscoring what happens when neophytes do battle.

Until Smith went public with a letter blasting the Bears, he had been as close to a model citizen as possible in this situation. No one could expect a player looking for an extension to come into all the offseason voluntary work and mandatory work but Smith did it. Meanwhile, starter Robert Quinn has a contract for almost twice what Smith has this year and skipped everything in the offseason. Go figure.

However, ripping the Bears publicly when Poles is sitting on high ground as a first-year GM was one of the most foolish strategies Smith could take.

Poles would need to do something extremely damaging to the organization to get knocked down a peg in his first year, and a contract negotiation with a weakside linebacker isn’t going to do it.

Because the only thing he could do was withhold services at his own expense from a team that most people believe will struggle regardless of whether he plays, Smith only damaged his own chances for an eventual contract in Chicago by holding out or holdin in or whatever.

His trade request might actually come to fruition in the future, though, because Poles will have almost limitless salary cap cash available and a full slate of draft picks to find another weak side linebacker at a lower cost in the offseason if Smith is in any way a disappointment. Or he could simply tag Smith and keep him around another year for the average salary of the top five linebackers.

However, the Bears do not emerge unscathed from this entire debacle.

Here are lessons learned from the Great Roquan Smith Hold-In of 2022 training camp on both sides.

1. Get an Agent

And if you fire yours, get another one who is sanctioned by the players union.

“No, I don’t regret not having an agent throughout this process,” Smith said. “I think that’s just a bunch of excuses when people say that. Times are changing and I feel like players want to be at the table to have full transparency to know what’s actually going on, what’s being said because a lot of people can say a lot of different things but when you’re there yourself, you see it with your own eyes, you know for a fact what’s going on.”

That’s exactly why you hire an agent you trust, for full transparency. Hiring one you don’t trust would tend to do the opposite and doing it for yourself is about the last thing in the world a player should do because not only do they get overmatched going against people who do this sort of thing for a living, but they also let emotional get involved in the process. The agent is a filter for this. Smith admitted as much, even if his conclusion about agents being unncessary is rather ridiculous.

“It was very emotional for me because normally I tend to not voice my opinion as much but I thought it was time for me to do that,” Smith said, referring to his decision to go public with his complaints. “And there was a lot of different things going on out there. A lot of different speculating and like things of that nature, and I just wanted the fans to know and the great city of Chicago to know like what was really going on since no one really knew. A lot of people was kind of caught in a blind so I just wanted that to be known.”

They’re still in a blind because Smith stopped short of revealing the cash demands and offers involved, but the emotion was evident with the way he blasted Poles in his letter through NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The emotion only gets in the way of negotiations.

“I just really learned how the business really works,” Smith said.

Not really. He learned how a tiny portion of one aspect of it works or can work if you don’t hire a real agent. Continuing this path in the future only invites a bad outcome.

2. There’s a Reason Players Miss Offseason Work

This is the reason. Allen Robinson did it and it did burn him. He wasn’t on the same page in the passing game with Justin Fields or anyone who played quarterback last year, then got hurt. And he missed all the offseason work.

At linebacker it’s different.

There’s no hitting allowed, anyway. So what good are linebackers at offseason work other than to learn a new defense. The Tampa-2 style employed by the Bears is simple, and Matt Eberflus has said as much. It’s the reason he says players can come in as free agents and pick it up quickly. So Smith should have missed all the offseason work and let the Bears know he meant business.

Perhaps he would have received a more serious offer.

3. The Bears Can Still Be Cheap

For decades the Bears had to overcome this largely concocted charge that they do things on the cheap. It went back to the George Halas days and things were much different then.

However, a team saddled with such a label doesn’t want to get right back in the saddle.

There’s no reason to doubt Smith’s claim that the Bears wanted de-escalator clauses in a contract. It’s such a ridiculous statement that no one would make this up.

Sadly, it’s low to ask for something like this. It’s entirely uncommon for NFL players drafted in Round 1 to be asked to agree to this, particularly with the eighth pick.

It’s cheap. It sounds like what Brian Doyle Murray did in the movie “Christmas Vacation,” when he gave everyone a jelly of the month club membership rather than their expected Christmas bonus.

For shame Ryan Poles and for shame George McCaskey.

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Poles might be inexperienced but it doesn’t take experience to avoid being a cheapskate.

4. Compliments Are Only Nice, Cash Talks

McCaskey praised Roquan Smith when the team fired Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace as being one of the players who did it right.

Poles had sworn up and down he likes Smith.

“My feelings for Roquan haven’t changed at all,” he said after the letter blasting the Bears’ negotiations came out. “I think he’s a very good football player. I love the kid, love what he’s done on the field–which makes me really disappointed with (where) we’re at right now. I thought we would be in a better situation, to be completely honest with you.”

The way to be in a better situation was by paying Smith.

It begs the question, how much does the current regime really love Smith?

5. Get Your Mouth Shut

As much as the media and fans love it, one of the worst things anyone can do is take their complaints into the public spotlight.

Smith has alienated an owner who obviously liked him. Regardless of what Poles said, this can’t sit well with him. If the Bears are on the fence over retaining Smith at a big amount in the future, he may have already cast the deciding vote for them with his mouth.

By saying he’s betting on himself on Saturday, Smith correctly depicted the future situation. However, he’s putting himself in an unncessarily tough spot. The Bears are less likely to do it.

If he’d done everything by the book quietly, without bad-mouthing the team, the Bears could always sign him to a bigger deal next March before free agency and there would be no face-saving involved on any side. Now there will be.

6. Never Say Never

Smith himself decided the talking is over.

Never say never. A few games of great productivity in the regular season might have convinced Poles to agree to what he wants.

You never know, but burning bridges never makes sense.

7. Be Proven Before Demanding

Smith has two second-team All-Pro selections. However, players and fans haven’t voted him a Pro Bowl player yet. Pro Football Focus considered him only the 62nd best linebacker in the league last year. He finally did crack the top 100 for NFL Network, a vote made by players. But was only 84th.

More importantly, Smith has not proven he can be a weakside linebacker yet in a 4-3 like the Bears plan to use him.

It’s easier to make wild demands when you’ve already shown a team how indispensible you are. When the Colts paid almost $100 million for Darius Leonard over five years, they already had seen what he could do for a few years in their scheme.

It might have suited Smith better to be more proven in this 4-3 before going public and letting the you-know-what fly. Even a few games could have made a big difference.

It might not be conventional negotiation to go a few games into the regular season and make some demands and then come up with a contract, because Smith could get hurt in those few games and then where will he be?

Then again, he’s got to go 17 games now and survive unscathed. He must excel in the process. The odds were better if he only played a few games first and then did the contract.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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