How Roquan Smith is putting Bears’ contract drama behind him ahead of Week 1

Roquan has put contract drama behind him, focused solely on football originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – August didn’t go how Roquan Smith envisioned. The Bears’ star linebacker spent most of training camp either on the PUP list or holding in as he and general manager Ryan Poles worked to find common ground on a long-term contract extension.

They never discovered that ground.

Smith eventually returned to practice, vowing to play out the remainder of his contract while calling the negotiations “distasteful.” With Week 1 now 10 days away, Smith has put the drama behind him.

“Of course. I never let anything get in the way of the bigger picture,” Smith said Wednesday at Halas Hall. “I understand. I’ll never let anyone or anything take the fun away from me. Been doing it since I was a kid, having fun since a kid, so nothing is going to stop that.”

The 25-year-old has said he is comfortable with the fact that the Bears could place the franchise tag on him after this season. That would double his current salary, something he’s more than OK accepting.

As for the prospects of him and Poles re-engaging in negotiations either before Week 1 or during the season, that’s off the table as far as Smith is concerned. It’s time to do what he does best.

“I’m not focused on that, if I’m being completely honest,” Smith said. “My focus is on making this year the best year I can and then go from there. 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.”

After being a budding star on a defense filled with leaders like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, and others, Smith now finds himself as the North Star for a young Bears’ defense. It’s a role he’s embracing, especially in the linebacker room.

“It’s definitely a transition,” Smith said. “But that’s been a transition throughout my time here as the years went on. Almost seemed like it fell in my hands in a sense, but not fell in my hand because I busted my ass to be in this position. It’s an honor and I take great pride in it.”

Smith can say the contract talks are out of sight, out of mind. But things get personal when you serve as your own agent and are negotiating for yourself. Poles called the situation “unique” and “emotional.” For good reason.

So, when Smith explained how he could thrive in head coach Matt Eberflus’ defense, his answer appeared to come with an underlying message to the man who he feels doesn’t value him at the right level.

“Oh man, I flourish in any defense,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter. Just line me up and tell me a play, and I’m there.”

When Smith returned to practice, he made it clear he’s betting on himself this season and plans to thrive in the critical WILL linebacker spot for Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

He echoed that Wednesday.

Translation: The price is about to go up.

On the field, Smith’s return has energized the defense. While he didn’t play in the preseason finale due to tightness, his impact on the rest of the unit has been crystal clear during practice.

“I would just say everybody has a sense of confidence, a different sense of confidence when he’s out there, especially me being, like you said, playing with him for two years,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “There’s some things that are kind of like unspoken and we don’t always have to communicate certain things. We just kind of can see things the same. And then the communication is easier. Our communication doesn’t necessarily have to be the same with everybody like that is with us two. Like we don’t have to say too many words.

“It’s just his sense of security when you have a guy like him knowing his intelligence of the game, knowing how he plays the game physically. I mean, he’s a monster. But just the leadership and the IQ that he brings to the defense is definitely a big jump.”

As for Smith’s ability to plan at an elite level and not let the contract issues bleed onto the field, Johnson knows that won’t be a problem.

“I would just say since he wants to be one of the greats, I feel like he has to keep the main thing the main thing and right now that’s playing ball,” Johnson said. “And he’s been doing that since he’s been back, since he’s been making his way back and he’s real professional. At the end of the day, he just wants to go out there and he wants to play ball and make plays with us.”

That’s the plan for the next four months. Then, negotiations can begin again.

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