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Well, that was one hell of a trade deadline. And due to the craziness of it, we’re focusing solely on the trades in this week’s Bears Things newsletter. Let’s jump right in:
The Lead: A difference in Roquan’s value
Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ press conference on Tuesday didn’t feel like a celebration.
“There’s part of me that’s bummed because (Roquan Smith) was a guy that I thought was going to be here for a long time,” Poles told reporters at Halas Hall. “I felt like we put a lot of effort forward to get that done, and we came up short. We couldn’t find common ground.”
Poles was very candid. Roquan Smith thought he was worth more than the Bears thought he was worth. And Smith not having an agent “does make it just harder,” the GM said.
“The reality of it is that you have to ask yourself a question: Are we ever going to find that middle ground? And from our previous conversations, you gather that information and it felt like it was highly unlikely,” Poles said. “So are you able to then take the opportunity to enhance your roster now? Or are you OK with the chance that he walks away and we can’t use some of that to enhance our roster? That’s what it came down to and I felt like we had to move forward at that time.”
It’s hard to argue with that logic. Moving forward meant trading Smith to the Baltimore Ravens for a second- and fifth-round pick. The Ravens, meanwhile, get one of the best interior linebackers in the league to help them make a run at the Super Bowl this year, but will have to navigate extensions for both Smith and quarterback Lamar Jackson — neither of whom have an agent — in the offseason.
Here’s my take: A few months ago, I never could have imagined a scenario in which Roquan Smith wouldn’t finish the season as a Bear. But that all changed on Aug. 12 when Smith demanded a trade with a bizarre statement that accused Poles of negotiating in bad faith and went above the GM’s head by calling on the McCaskeys to fix the situation. It was an extremely bold move that was made way too soon — a miscalculation that almost surely wouldn’t have been made by an NFLPA-certified agent.
To Poles’ credit, he immediately addressed the situation that day and said all the right things about Smith publicly. But the linebacker’s negotiation ploy likely dug the Bears’ heels in. Poles said Tuesday they submitted their final offer to Smith before the regular season began. From there, they monitored two things: Smith’s play in Matt Eberflus’ new defense and the trade market.
On Monday, they traded Smith to Baltimore.
Smith’s 2022 season is exactly why I spend so much time watching film. His overall statistics are misleading. He leads the NFL with 83 tackles. He’s second on the Bears with 2.5 sacks. He also has two interceptions.
But my grading system suggests he’s been nothing more than a fringe starter in 2022. Harsh? Probably. Before Sunday’s dismal game against the Cowboys (the lowest-graded game of his career), Smith was still on the low-end of the “longterm starter” category. The problem is, he wanted to be paid as a blue-chip player. And while Smith was my highest-graded Bear in 2021, it was the only season he actually graded out as a blue-chip player.
2022 has been an inconsistent season at best. While Smith leads the league in tackles, I’ve marked him down for 22 negative plays and two catastrophic errors. Against the Cowboys, he had two missed tackles that resulted in Tony Pollard touchdowns. Interestingly, the Week 3 game against the Texans was the highest grade of his career. On the flip side, the Packers and Cowboys games are the two lowest grades of his career. The new scheme and a poor defensive line aren’t helping.
But even if you eliminate the extreme highs and lows of this season, my 4.5 seasons of evaluation of Roquan Smith match up with Poles’ actions this week. He’s a really good player worth locking up long-term.
But does he deserve to be the highest-paid interior linebacker in the NFL? No, he doesn’t. And when you consider a dip in his play in a new scheme that isn’t going away, you can understand why Poles never thought the two sides would be able to find middle ground on a contract extension.
“We had a difference in value,” Poles said. “I don’t think I’ve ever sat up here and said he’s not a really good football player. But to have a long-term agreement, there has to be a common ground of what that looks like to make him a long-term player.”
Enter Chase Claypool
Meanwhile, the pivot toward adding a good wide receiver Tuesday was interesting, but not really that surprising if you look at the overall receiver landscape.
Justin Fields needs help. Now. And it’s Poles’ job to get him help.
It’s nice that the Bears have a lot of draft capital and cap space to work with, but what good is that currency if the wide receiver options available aren’t great?
“You have to do a little bit of forecasting and looking down the road,” Poles said about the 2023 wide receiver free agent market. “I just didn’t feel completely comfortable with that.”
So if it comes down to using a 2023 second-round pick on a rookie wide receiver or using it on 24-year-old Chase Claypool — who can help Fields in the nine remaining games in 2022 — which one would you choose?
“I like the way Justin is trending, and I think adding another big body who’s physical, explosive, great leaping ability, can stretch the field but also is violent with the ball in his hand as well as a blocker, I think that enhances everyone around him,” Poles said.
It’s going to take a few weeks for Claypool to get up to speed with the Bears’ offense. Then again, his strength is going up and winning 50/50 balls. That’s exactly what the Bears lack right now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Claypool get on the field in a limited capacity Sunday against the Dolphins. If nothing else, it will pull attention away from Darnell Mooney.
Suddenly, Fields is playing well and has a little bit of help. And the rest of this Bears season is interesting.
The Packers connection
Multiple reports confirmed the Packers were in on the Claypool trade and even offered a second-round pick. For Poles, that meant having to offer the Bears’ second-round pick and not the one acquired from the Ravens on Monday, which figures to come later in the round.
Not surprisingly, the Steelers valued the Bears’ pick more than the Packers’ pick. The Packers should win more games than the Bears this season, right?
Both teams are 3-5 and the Bears don’t have Roquan Smith anymore.
On the other hand, Justin Fields and the offense are getting better. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers might be getting worse.
I certainly don’t fault the Steelers for thinking the Bears will finish with a worse record than the Packers. Then again, they might want to keep an eye on the Dec. 4 Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field, just in case.
See everyone at the tailgate on Sunday!
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