LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- As he prepared to arrive at Soldier Field for practice Tuesday morning, Bears receiver Darnell Mooney saw the tweet. Star linebacker and teammate Roquan Smith had formally requested a trade out of Chicago as his long-term contract negotiations with the team had stalled.
Smith, 25, expressed his frustration in a statement released through a national reporter, claiming the Bears have “refused to negotiate in good faith” and “(don’t) value” him as a player. Smith then joined his teammates on the west sideline of Soldier Field as they practiced without him.
Bears players want to be supportive of Smith while also acting respectful toward their organization. It can create an uncomfortable situation.
“You see that all the time with players trying to put the heat on the organization just trying to get a deal done,” Mooney said Wednesday. “It’s nothing that I can do or anything, so I’m just looking from far away.”
Bears coach Matt Eberflus has praised Smith's professionalism during his contract hold-in throughout training camp. Smith has participated during team meetings, been present with the linebackers in their classroom work, joined for weightlifting sessions and worked actively off the field.
But once the Bears take to the practice field, Smith retreats to a far sideline for conditioning work that's allowed during his time on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He wears a No. 58 jersey throughout practice and has taken the time to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. Smith just isn’t practicing with the Bears – and it’s unclear whether he’s willing to join them on the field down the line without a contract extension in place.
"You don’t get a lot of opportunities to sign new contracts,” Bears veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn said. “I'm sure he wants to get as much as possible. Respectfully, I think he deserves it too. But it’s a business. One side doesn’t want to pay him, and he wants to get paid.”
Smith is due $9.735 million in fully guaranteed salary in 2022 as part of the fifth-year option tendered with his rookie contract, and he's slated to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Smith isn't currently subject to fines for missing practices because of his place on the PUP list, and players who conduct hold-ins aren't violating collectively bargained rules. If a player opted to hold out from training camp – meaning they didn't show up at all to the team facility – they're subject to a $50,000 daily fine.
As a defense, the Bears have prepared for the potential that Smith isn't at the starting weakside linebacker position when they open the regular season. Veteran Nick Morrow, who was projected to work the middle Mike position, has moved into Smith’s place. Matthew Adams and Joe Thomas have also stepped into the starting positions.
The Bears hope their scheme can help create continuity for all 11 starters, but Smith is a difficult player to replace. Teammates are staying out of the his private business while hoping for a resolution.
“Roquan is a special player for sure,” Mooney said. “And we would love to have him going out there.
“Whenever his deal is done, he’ll be out there 100% for us.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.