The Chicago Bears are Botching the Roquan Smith Contract

By Jason Lisk

Roquan Smith, the 8th overall selection in this year’s draft by the Chicago Bears, is one of only two rookie first round picks who have yet to sign their contract. (Sam Darnold is the other.) The rookie wage scale largely takes any drama out of the initial contract process. Starting salaries and bonuses are slotted, so there’s not much in terms of the dollar amounts to talk about. Players can’t renegotiate for over three years, which is why we see the star young players frequently talking holdout as they approach years three and four.

All that remains at the outset are details like being able to keep the slotted money–vastly reduced for rookies due to the rookie wage scale anyway–and when the team can get their hands back on it. We saw it pop up with the Chargers and Joey Bosa a few years ago in regard to offsets and bonus schedules. This time around, the impasse is related to the new NFL rules on suspensions for on-field hits.

"Smith’s representatives at CAA Football are asking the Bears to include in the contract a written assurance that the team would not go after any of Smith’s guaranteed money if he were suspended under the new rule, the sources said. They all requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations. The Bears have resisted putting that specific protection in writing. Instead, they have informally assured Smith’s representatives that they would be reasonable in assessing disciplinary action by the league against Smith under the new rule, according to two people with knowledge of the situation."

Teams have the right to go after guaranteed money in the event of disciplinary suspensions, even if they don’t always choose to do it. There’s lots of uncertainty over the suspensions and enforcement of the new rule. Roquan is the highest-drafted linebacker this year and wants protection to know that playing the game and making lots of tackles won’t then result in losing the money if things go sideways with the Bears organization. Tremaine Edmunds, represented by the same agents as Smith, got that provision included in his contract with the Bills and signed quickly.

Informally providing assurances means nothing. If you mean it, put it in writing. If there are contingencies, then spell them out. It’s not hard, but you give him his guaranteed money to, you know, play linebacker. The Bears are worried about what precedent this sets. How about worrying about the precedent that you now look like idiots? Because here’s what they’ve done. They drafted a linebacker very highly, and now have it in the back of his mind that they could take his money away if he is too aggressive. Good job, Chicago.