Roquan Smith’s breakout 2020 season put him on another level, establishing himself as one of football’s best inside linebackers. And as he enters his age 24 season, there is an argument to be made that the best is yet to come for Smith. After all, his peak years await.
For what it’s worth, Smith seems to want to spend those years in Chicago:
Roquan Smith goes on to say that a new contract in Chicago is "definitely something that I want." #Bears
— Zack Pearson (@Zack_Pearson) June 15, 2021
Smith is under contract for this season and will play on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal in 2021. That is, of course, unless the Bears can come up with an extension before that time comes. Smith is eligible for an extension now, just as Eddie Jackson was after his third season in the pros. There shouldn’t be a rush to get Smith an extension now. However, agreeing on an extension on the earlier side of things has its perks. For instance, locking in Smith to a rewarding extension now could help the Bears better navigate their long-term cap situation. And with the future cap situation looking better than it does in the present, there are reasons to be hopeful an extension can come to fruition.
But what could it look like?
Well, we recently got a new data point via the Dolphins. Last week, Miami signed linebacker Jerome Baker to a three-year extension worth up to $39 million. Baker, 24, was a third-round pick in 2018 and became the first linebacker from that class to land a second contract with the team that chose him. Other extension-eligible linebackers include Tremaine Edmunds, Fred Warner, Darius Leonard, and Smith. That’s some good company. So perhaps it might be wise for the Bears to make a deal with Smith before Edmunds, Warner, and Leonard reset the market at a higher rate.
As it stands, Baker’s extension puts him at the sixth-highest AAV among linebackers according to PFF’s contract data. So, to surpass that number, Chicago needs to go north of $12.5 million per year. Baker’s $28 million in full guarantees puts him at eighth among players at the position. In other words, this sets up for Smith and others to reset the market and enter the top-10 when it comes to total guarantees. All in all, this doesn’t appear to be a challenging extension to come by for both sides. Then again, I thought the Bears and Allen Robinson would’ve had an extension by now. And we know there’s no movement to be had there right now.
In the end, I wish I had a better grasp on how teams will allocate future spending. If I did, I’d have a better idea of what a new deal for Smith would look like. The pandemic year threw football finances through a loop. As a result, the salary cap took a sizable dip in 2021. And while projections suggest it will rebound, how long it will take to get to that point is a guessing game. Maybe Baker’s three-year extension will present a new baseline. One that allows for players to get paid now, but also re-enter the market again while in their prime. In any case, it’s something we’ll keep eyes on moving forward.