Chicago Bears LB is in camp, but questions remain

When Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Bowles sat down Tuesday morning for the mandatory press conference that set the stage for training camp, he hadn’t quite cut his way with linebacker Roquan Smith.

The Poles were informed that Smith had entered the camp. But then?

Well, let’s just say that all the Poles know about Smith’s dissatisfaction with a contract or plans to address it is different from what GM was willing to talk about publicly.

On a podium inside Hallas and in front of the cameras broadcasting live back and forth with reporters through the Bears’ channels, the Poles chose an elusive path. He mentioned Smith in his opening statement, but briefly and only to say he loved the full-back as a player and as a person but wouldn’t talk about Smith’s contract status.

During the barrage of questions that followed, the Poles still couldn’t – or didn’t want to – offer much.

Had Smith reached out directly to anyone in the organization about how he plans to approach training camp after Monday’s report from the NFL Network suggested he might not be involved in practices due to contract frustrations?

“I will not go into this situation at the moment,” Poles said.

Were the Poles hopeful that Smith would join his teammates in the first practice for the Bears on Wednesday morning?

He said, “Yes.” “That’s what we expect from everyone – show up, get better, take the time.”

But what if Smith defied that and started camp as detention through boycott practices?

“I don’t know what his intentions are,” said Poles. “I know it’s the check-in record (to the camp). We’ll take it from there and gather the information and take this step by step every time. That’s all I can do.”

Meanwhile, the Bears’ anxious fan base is waiting and searching for clues without any comment on the point from Smith, who was not made available to reporters Tuesday.

Smith is entering the fifth and final year of his junior contract and will earn $9.325 million in base salary this season. However, as a two-time All-Pro linebacker who continues to climb, Smith wants an extension beyond 2022 before the regular season arrives, and would like to be paid as one of the best defenders in the league.

Some NFL insiders have come to an informed guess that Smith may be aiming to make money with a new $100 million on-field deal over five years. But who knows exactly what Smith is after. Or how well the Poles, a first-time GM to revamp its porous bear slate, would be willing to invest.

“I will not touch the part of the contract,” said the Poles. “But as I said about him, nothing has changed from my end in terms of how I feel about the player and what he can bring to this team.”

As of this spring, Smith is without an agent representation. And when asked Tuesday if that was the case, the Poles were unable to find a direct answer.

“Um… you have to… yes. I won’t talk about it,” he said.

But wouldn’t that be a complicating factor in an already tangled situation if Smith was still without someone important to handle the contract talks?

“If a player did not have an agent, the situation would be different than if he had,” said Poles.

The ambiguity was noticeable.

The next step, of course, is to listen to the 25-year-old full-back and get a clearer indication of what is going on and how he hopes to resolve the situation.

Only four players spoke on Tuesday – linebacker Justin Fields, quarterback Lucas Patrick, linebacker Jaylon Johnson and linebacker Justin Jones. Johnson, Smith’s teammate for the last two seasons, was asked if he had spoken to Smith.

“I just said, ‘What’s the matter?'” Johnson said. “I care about my own business, you big dog.”

When asked what the bear defense would miss without Smith’s practice, Johnson straightened up and smiled.

“(expletive) our leader,” he said. “You all know who Roquan is and what he means to the team. But at the end of the day, someone has to fill that gap.”

Meanwhile, Bears coach Matt Eberless once again praised Smith’s skills and leadership traits, but also indicated that he would make the necessary adjustments if Smith chose not to train for the foreseeable future.

“I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said.

The Bears may have a similar problem with defensive end Robert Quinn, whose 18-weight sacks last season set a franchise record. Quinn was absent from the mandatory mini camp last month and was fined accordingly. There is buzz within league circles that he would rather be traded than spend his twelfth season in the NFL as part of a major rebuilding effort. But like Smith, Quinn reported camp on time on Tuesday. And like Smith, he never expressed any of his wishes publicly.

The Poles had no direct indication that Quinn was lobbying to be dealt with.

“I didn’t have that conversation with him,” Poles said. “I hope he wants to be here.”

The Bears will arrive at the training ground at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and have four rehearsals this week before their first mandatory day off on Sunday.

There is a lot of fluidity with the team that has been overhauled since January. But the situation of Smith and Quinn will remain an issue and a challenge for the Poles as he sees fit.

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