CHICAGO — There comes a time in every great stalemate for one side or the other to blink.
The time for Roquan Smith to start flapping his eyelids is now.
More than a few of my brethren in the media have already chosen sides on this one, but I have tap-danced around it for the better part of three or four weeks because of the lack of definitive information available and the fact it hasn’t mattered all that much until now.
The preseason is already too long, and with Smith having enjoyed the benefit of several minicamps and that playbook/iPad that he lost briefly in his hands for the better part of the last three months, he didn’t need to be in Bourbonnais three weeks ago.
But with the preseason now just about half over and the middle of the Bears defense looking about as stout as bubble wrap Thursday night in Cincinnati, Smith needs to get to work now if the Bears defense is going to be ready for the Packers.
Nick Kwiatkoski has actually had a really nice camp so far, but he is a No. 2 at best and best suited to be the 3 with the Bears, and the team has no one else ready to play the position effectively in primetime.
Smith was drafted to be more than a good football player; the plan was for him to be the “Green Dot,” aka the quarterback of the defense on the field from opening day on. He needs to travel with the team to Denver this week for what are likely to be the most competitive and productive practices of the preseason if he still is to have a chance to be ready on opening day.
The secondary concern is getting him in football shape to avoid injuries early in the season from not being prepared for the physicality of the game. There is no one-size-fits-all game plan for that, but if he starts this week he can be brought along slowly enough to build towards game shape and still be ready. If another week is lost, the temptation to rush him could yield nagging injuries that could linger and hamper him all season long.
Smith has missed every day of camp he can without risking limiting his full potential for his rookie campaign.
Now let’s negotiate.
I have refused to go here, because while I’m pretty sure I know almost exactly what’s gone on to date, I haven’t been in the room. But my sources are good, and almost everyone else I’ve talked to around the league and in the media is hearing essentially the same things I am.
Initially, Smith and his team had some unfounded but reasonable concerns that the Bears might try and avoid paying Smith all they owed him if he ran afoul of the NFL’s new lowering-the-helmet rules. The Bears quickly acquiesced to Smith’s concerns, because they had no desire to take advantage of the young man.
Then Smith’s people came back and demanded the Bears protect Smith further in the event he breaks some rules he shouldn’t.
While all indications are the Bears still wouldn’t go after Smith’s money, giving up the right to protect themselves would be foolish and would set a horrible precedent not only in conceding to Smith’s specific requests, but by sending a message to agents everywhere the Bears can be pushed around.
This has become a case of Smith’s agents trying to negotiate something that will benefit them as a tool to market themselves but have no impact on their client other than the ill will it is potentially creating right now between he and his new bosses and teammates.
Smith is going to be a Bear and be paid approximately $18 million over the next four years, with roughly $11 million in the form of bonuses. It will all be guaranteed, and shy of some extraordinary circumstances, he is going to get every penny of it.
The time for him to tell his agents to go take care of themselves on their time and their own dime, and for him sign his contract and get to work is right now.