Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith openly requested a trade on Tuesday.
“The new front office regime doesn’t value me here,” Smith wrote in a lengthy statement fielded by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. “They’ve refused to negotiate in good faith, every step of this journey has been ‘take it or leave it’. The deal sent to me is one that would be bad for myself, and for the entire LB market if I signed it. I’ve been trying to get something done that’s fair since April, but their focus has been on trying to take advantage of me.
“I wanted to be a Bear for my entire career, help this team bring a (Super Bowl) back to our city. However, they have left me no choice than to request a trade that allows me to play for an organization that truly values what I bring to the table.”
Will the Bears consider trading Smith in what looks like a clear rebuild under the new leadership of head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles? This offseason, Chicago allowed Allen Robinson to walk in free agency, traded Khalil Mack and cut Danny Trevathan, among other veteran contributors. Could Smith follow those guys out the door?
“I thought we’d be in a better situation,” Poles said to reporters in the wake of Smith’s public statement. “Right now, my intentions are to sign Roquan to this team. We’re gonna take it day by day, and at the end of the day, we’ve got to do what’s best for this organization. But my intentions are to make sure Roquan’s signed to this team.”
So, what’s next for the second-team All-Pro linebacker? We shall see. On the one hand, Smith is only 25 and has played at a relatively high level since entering the league. But on another hand, he’s due $9.7 million in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract and plays a less-than-premium position — so would another team even offer enough to Poles and the Bears to make a deal viable?
In the meantime, let’s kick around some possibilities and consider a few teams that might be candidates to kick the tires on Smith in a trade discussion.
Sure, there’s a geographic element, as Smith grew up a few hours outside Atlanta and attended the University of Georgia. But this could also make sense from a team-building perspective.
On the one hand, you might question why a rebuilding organization would take on a prospective free agent with a big contract at — arguably — a non-essential position. But Atlanta is all about stockpiling as much fertile talent as possible, theoretically, and the man who drafted Smith is in the front office. Ryan Pace isn’t the general manager in Atlanta, joining the Falcons in February as a senior personnel executive, but the franchise has added some former Bears this offseason. Pace has been a Smith fan — and vice versa — since Chicago took him in the top 10 back in 2018.
The Falcons currently seem stuck with Deion Jones’ contract, and they have added quite a bit to the LB room this offseason, but the talent-poor squad appears to have the cap space to add a two-time second-team All-Pro who’s squarely in his prime.
The Ravens just recently used a first-round pick on Patrick Queen, who plays the same position, and they have a history of unearthing hidden gems at that spot. So why might they want Smith?
Well, it depends on what their level of faith is in Queen and Malik Harrison developing, along with how much they still think they can squeeze out of Josh Bynes.
It also might depend on how effective the Ravens believe Smith could be in pass coverage, which was Baltimore’s biggest defensive weakness a year ago — and coincidentally, it was the area of Smith’s game that appeared to slip the most last season. Still, if the Ravens believe Smith can upgrade the defense considerably — also, if they can afford the linebacker’s 2022 salary and stomach the compensation necessary to get a deal done — they might have to consider it. GM Eric Decosta isn’t afraid to be aggressive when opportunities present themselves.
This is a team that appears to consider itself closer to the one that started last season 8-3 than the one that dropped its final six games. Of those six straight losses, five came by a combined eight points. In a year where one division rival’s star quarterback is suspended and another rival is moving on from its future Hall Of Fame QB, the Ravens might be willing to strike for a big move when the iron is hot.
New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero comes from the Vic Fangio coaching tree and reportedly plans to keep much of Fangio’s terminology in place as he runs the Broncos’ unit. That alone gives you the idea that Smith transitioning into this system would be pretty seamless.
Josey Jewell is Denver’s most established presence at inside linebacker. He’s a solid player, for sure. But the team also let A.J. Johnson walk in the offseason, and Smith might be an upgrade here, adding a layer of talent to a team that has designs on contending this season following the blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson. Jewell also missed 15 games last season due to injury, and the depth at LB could be thin.
But the Broncos might have to do some salary shuffling to make a deal such as this work, and they’re seemingly enamored with Jonas Griffith, who stood out late last season in a test drive and who reportedly has enjoyed a strong camp. GM George Paton also was a senior member of a Vikings front office that used top-50 picks on linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, suggesting Paton might value the position more than some other talent evaluators.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was on the Bears’ coaching staff with Fangio when they drafted Smith in 2018. Smith was a rookie starter and an instant-impact performer on a defense that was among the best playmaking units in the league that season. So it’s not hard at all to see a possible connection here.
In a recent camp scrimmage, the Chargers were down four inside linebackers, including 2020 first-rounder Kenneth Murray, free-agent signee Kyle Van Noy and possible starter Drue Tranquill. How seriously concerned are the Bolts with the lack of healthy bodies at the position? That will obviously factor into whether they’re interested in Smith.
But cap space isn’t a problem — according to Over The Cap, Los Angeles has the most available cash of any team on this list at around $14.5 million — and the Murray concern has to be high, with him currently residing on the PUP list with an ankle injury that wiped out a big chunk of his 2021 season. Also, beyond the health issue, Murray has often struggled in his two seasons with the franchise.
If the Chargers were to trade for Smith, it would follow an offseason blueprint in which they aggressively beefed up defensively by signing CB J.C. Jackson, bolstering the DT position and trading for Khalil Mack, Smith’s former teammate in Chicago. Los Angeles doesn’t have a ton of holes, but appears to be taking a Super-Bowl-or-bust approach while Justin Herbert is on his rookie contract. Don’t rule out this possibility.
Follow Eric Edholm on Twitter.
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