In just four seasons, Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith has become one of the key leaders and playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. He flies to the ball on every single play and, outside of Robert Quinn, is having the best season for a defensive player on the team.
Smith already has a career high in total tackles this season with 149 and is well on his way towards setting a new career high in solo tackles as well, currently at 88 on the season. That’s good for fourth and tied for fourth in the NFL, respectively. Not bad for someone looking to cash in on a new contract extension.
But for as good as a player as he is, would it be wise for the Bears to allocate a large percentage of their cap space to the inside linebacker? One former Super Bowl champion has questions about a possible extension.
Former Bears safety and Super Bowl XX champion Gary Fencik joined the Bear Down Report podcast last week to discuss a number of topics, ranging from his playing days, to questions surrounding the current front office.
That same front office is going to have a decision to make regarding Smith’s future, and Fencik isn’t sure about an extension for the talented player given other pressing needs.
“He’s the real deal, there’s no question about that. I guess the question I would have is, you and I have 100 pennies. Where are we going to spend those pennies? At what positions? Everybody knows the quarterback is the most important, but you only have 100 pennies. You need an outside rusher, I think you really need a cornerback, or two good cornerbacks. What about an inside linebacker in a 3-4 [defense]? I don’t know.
What if that guy turns into Superman, but you’re like, ‘I only have so many dollars I can spend.’ Can I afford to spend a lot of money at a position that isn’t as critical? I don’t know the answer to that question and the Bears are going to have to face that here in the next couple of years.”
Fencik isn’t denying Smith’s talent or whether or not he deserves to be paid like a top-five linebacker in the league. In fact, he compared his lateral quickness to Brian Urlacher later in the interview.
But for the struggling Bears, who have already poured so much money into their defense, does an extension take priority over the other glaring needs this team has?
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Smith is a Pro-Bowl caliber player, though he’s been snubbed the last two seasons. Still, he’ll likely see top dollar if he hits NFL free agency. Darius Leonard and Fred Warner are making over $18 million per year with their contract extensions they signed this past offseason. Should Smith sign an extension with the Bears, he would likely be in that ballpark and account for the second-highest salary on the Bears heading into the 2022 season, behind Khalil Mack.
Fortunately, cap space won’t be that much of an issue with the Bears as they have the 11th-most free cap space with over $43 million heading into the 2022 season, according to Spotrac. Smith could fit into that space as of now, but do the Bears want to prioritize and try and shore up their cornerback and receiver positions first? Especially when the team is closer to 3-14 than 4-13.
It would be quite the upset for the Bears to let Smith play out his final year on his rookie deal and not extend him, but we’ve seen this move from general manager Ryan Pace before. The Bears picked up Smith’s fifth-year option last offseason, guaranteeing him over $9.7 million next season and ensuring he doesn’t become a free agent until 2023 at the earliest.
Extending Smith makes all the sense in the world to most fans. But the Bears’ career leader in interceptions brings up a valid point: Is it wise to commit so many resources, or pennies in this case, to someone that may not impact the game as much as other defensive positions? As Fencik said, the Bears have a decision on their hands coming sooner rather than later.
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