LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- In failing to land a lucrative extension amid a contract hold-in that ended Saturday, Bears star linebacker Roquan Smith learned how the business side of football truly works.
“I thought it was very distasteful to say the least,” Smith said after ending contract negotiations with the Bears and returning to practice.
Bears running back David Montgomery may soon come to realize that as well.
As he enters the final season of his rookie contract, Montgomery is working without security for his future. He plays a position that brings great injury risk and offers a brief window for prime production. Simply put, running backs don’t warrant significant contract extensions because teams aren’t paying for past performance – and don't want to bank on uncertain futures.
Bears first-year general manager Ryan Poles proved an important point in negotiations with the 25-year-old Smith. Poles wasn't willing to pay beyond a certain point for an off-ball linebacker, and he stood his ground in the challenging and emotional negotiations. Smith was seeking a deal that would reset the market at his position and surpass Colts star Shaquille Leonard's five-year, $99.25-million deal. That hope didn't come to fruition.
Poles has carefully planned out the Bears’ salary cap for years to come and won’t budge from his perceived values at each position. When it comes to the running back position, Poles seems unlikely to pay a significant price for any player.
For his part, Montgomery downplayed the connection between Smith’s negotiations and his own future.
“I just come here to play football,” Montgomery said. “That has nothing to do with me.”
Former Bears running back Matt Forte, who's second behind only the great Walter Payton on the franchise’s all-time rushing list, recently said was pulling for Smith to land a long-term contract extension with the team.
Forte has been in Smith’s position before. In 2012, he was working through a difficult negotiation with first-year general manager Phil Emery. Four months after the Bears utilized the franchise tag on Forte, he reached an agreement on a four-year extension worth $32 million. At the end of that deal, the Bears allowed Forte to walk in free agency and sign with the Jets.
During his contract battle with the Bears, Forte found that loyalty wasn't factored in to the negotiations.
“I respect him standing his ground and being like, ‘Look, I need to get paid,’ because you can get hurt any day,” Forte told Gabe Ramirez on 670 The Score last Wednesday. “And if you get hurt and they cut you, then they just release you and be like, ‘Well, you’re injured. You're not the same guy anymore.’ So, you have to use your leverage as a player.
“The Bears, they are definitely cheap, and they give guys a hard time. I don’t know, they pay a lot of guys who don’t deserve the money and sometimes the guys who do deserve it, they don’t pay them.”
A third-round pick of the Bears in 2019, Montgomery has rushed 714 times for 2,808 yards and 21 touchdowns over 44 games for the team. The 25-year-old Montgomery has proved to be a reliable running back for the Bears despite their own inconsistency on offense. Whether his play over three years has warranted a contract extension is a topic of debate, but Poles must think for the future and consider whether it’s wise to offer Montgomery a lucrative second contract.
Montgomery could covet a deal similar to that of Browns running back Nick Chubb, who landed a three-year, $36.6-million extension last August. The Bears don't seem likely to come near that mark, even with their ample salary cap space.
The Bears appear committed to a shared workload in their backfield, which is likely to also feature carries for second-year rusher Khalil Herbert and rookie Trestan Ebner. That would help preserve Montgomery's health but also limit his production. It's worth nothing that Poles spent the last 13 years with a Chiefs organization that was reluctant to pay running backs beyond their rookie contracts.
At the end of a frustrating contract feud with the Bears, Smith turned his focus toward playing out this season and pushing the business side off until next offseason. Montgomery has no choice but to do the same.
Business can be cruel in the NFL. Smith knows this well, and Montgomery might soon find the same.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.