Will trading away Roquan Smith hurt the Chicago Bears in the long run?Todd Welteron November 1, 2022 at 11:00 am

The Chicago Bears made shock waves when they traded All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens.

General manager Ryan Poles has traded the franchise’s single-season record holder for most sacks in Robert Quinn and Smith in a matter of days. In return, Poles added a second and fifth-round pick for Smith and a fourth-round pick for Quinn. Poles also got veteran linebacker A.J. Klein back in the Smith deal.

Poles has cleared more cap space for the 2023 offseason. The Chicago Bears now have around $120 million in cap space. Add in nine draft picks and next offseason is proving to be the most pivotal one in franchise history.

Picks and cap space are sorely needed as the Chicago Bears have major needs at wide receiver, offensive line, and defensive line. Pretty much every position unit could use an upgrade except secondary, running back, and quarterback.

The trade was a surprise but not unexpected.

Poles indicated after the Quinn trade the Bears were probably going to run out the clock on anymore trades before the deadline.

Poles tried to sign Smith to a long-term extension in the offseason. Roquan wanted to be paid top dollar. With Smith representing himself and there being differences on how much Roquan should be paid, it was a messy negotiation that ended up with no long-term deal.

Maybe that played a role in Poles pulling the trigger on the trade. Smith was the team’s best and most talented defensive player. He is a tackling machine who is leading the league in that category.

At the same time, this is not 20 years ago when linebacker was a premium position.

Allocating cap resources to an off-the-ball linebacker is not something most teams want to do these days. Playing in a pass-happy NFL, you need pass rushers, game-wrecking defensive tackles, and lockdown cornerbacks.

They get the top dollar and the majority of cap resources.

Linebackers are becoming the running backs of defense. It was once a highly valued position but is now viewed as a dime-a-dozen-player unit. You can find good linebackers anywhere these days. If you want to take up $20 million-plus in cap space, you need to do more than just make tackles.

Smith was making plays beyond tackling but he was also inconsistent. His last two games as a Bear were a classic case of this. He was outstanding against New England but a non-factor against Dallas.

This trade will hurt the Chicago Bears short term. It might impact the Bears in the long run too.

It’s very difficult to get better allowing players like Roquan Smith to leave. The Bears are making a major gamble on Ryan Poles’ ability to draft and lure free agents.

— Dan Pompei (@danpompei) October 31, 2022

This is a sign to future free agents that the Chicago Bears might not be willing to pay up. The current player should be worried that the team is not willing to hand over lavish contract extensions. Also, this sends a sign if you cross Poles, you could be out of town quickly.

Poles may not have drafted Smith but Roquan was a homegrown, two-time second-team All-Pro player. Normally a player like Smith gets rewarded by their team. Roquan got shown the door.

Poles also had a strike against him when the team voided a free-agent deal with three-technique defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Ogunjobi failed a physical but the Bears still could have circled back and signed him to a lesser deal filled with incentives. Instead, Ogunjobi had to wait until late June to get a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then again, that narrative on Poles can be rewritten the moment he hands over a contract extension to another player the team drafted. Also, with the amount of salary cap space the Chicago Bears have next season, they can overpay a few premium free agents.

Plus, the best teams are always built through the draft with free agency rounding out the roster or getting that final piece that puts a team over the top.

The problem Poles had last offseason was he inherited a salary cap mess from the previous regime. Also, Roquan Smith was one of just two first-round picks on the Bears’ roster that the franchise picked. Now only Justin Fields remains as the Bears’ only first-round pick made by the team.

That is because the previous regime either drafted poorly (Kevin White), gave up too quickly on players (Leonard Floyd), or traded away first-round picks like they were going out of style.

When you have a roster lacking first-round talent, you get the situation the Bears found themselves in before Poles was hired.

Poles is now cleaning up the salary cap and roster mess. While it will hurt the team now, prioritizing salary cap space and draft capital will help the Chicago Bears in the long run.

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