Thinking Out Loud: Is There Any LB Who Could Take Money Once Earmarked for Roquan Smith?

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Thinking Out Loud: Is There Any LB Who Could Take Money Once Earmarked for Roquan Smith?

Chicago Bears

There was a time when I thought Roquan Smith was going to be at the heart of the Chicago Bears’ defense for the foreseeable future. Smith was a second-team All-Pro linebacker in 2020 and 2021 playing inside in a 3-4 look. And even though his responsibilities were changing in Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 defense, there was an expectation Smith would shine there, too. But we didn’t even get to see that happen. Because with the Bears and Smith unable to come to an agreement on an extension, GM Ryan Poles sent Smith packing in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.

In the end, I see the deal as a win-win for both sides. Smith joined a Ravens roster that was runs a scheme that is a perfect fit for his skills. And then they paid him handsomely after earning his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro nods. As for the Bears, they nabbed some much-needed draft capital and cleared some cap space in one fell swoop. But in the process of finalizing the deal, Chicago also left open a spot that needs filling. And maybe it is the lack of sleep, food, or entertainment options at 1:50 a.m. ET at Orlando’s airport that is triggering this thought, but now I’m wondering if the Bears will address linebacker needs in free agency.

If you’ll recall, the Bears had some level of interest in keeping Roquan around. But it had to be at their price. Stubborn? Sure. However, I admire the gumption of someone who sticks to their vision. And if Poles’ vision didn’t include paying an off-ball linebacker $20 million per year with $60 million in total guarantees, then that’s fine. If that is the case, then I hope that money can be better spent elsewhere. Heck, I’m not 100 percent opposed to spending that money on a linebacker if the fit is good and the price is right. At this point, you’re likely asking what that even looks like. And that is fair. So, let’s discuss.

Back in August, there was scuttlebutt that the Bears sent over a $95 million offer for Smith to consider. There was also buzz that the deal had language that was artificially inflating the total value in a way that made his contract look like it was paying him a market-setting rate. Drawing up a contract that has big numbers with a low probability of players reaching them happens often in the NFL. I’ll admit it bugs me. But until the NFLPA pushes for fully guaranteed contracts, these shenanigans will continue. Moving on.

Given what we know about the deal the Bears reportedly sent to Roquan, we could surmise that Poles would extend that type of offer to a different player. Perhaps someone who fits better schematically. Maybe someone this front office sees as a long-term fixture. It is possible that, because off-ball LB isn’t a high-priority position right now, the Bears could snag an impact defender at the position while other teams prioritize other spots. Zigging when everyone else is zagging is so fetch.

So … who fits the bill?

Well, I’ve got some ideas:

  • T.J. Edwards, Eagles — Edwards, 26, is the type of young veteran who fits the Bears’ build toward opening a competitive window. The Lake Villa product put up career-bests in total tackles (159), solo tackles (99), and QB Hits (5). PFF projects Edwards netting a 3-year deal worth up to $40.5 million and comes with a $13.5M AAV.
  • Tremaine Edmunds, Bills — Edmunds, also 26, was someone we had a great interest in the Bears drafting in 2018. He even drew comparisons to Brian Urlacher. Hey, now. Don’t shoot the messenger. A freaky, rangy, toolsy athlete is easy to fall in love with in the pre-draft process. And that he has had success at the pro level makes it easy for us to dream about the Bears bringing him in as a free agent. PFF projects a 4-year deal worth up to $75 million at an average of $18.75 million per year. That feels like the kind of contract the Bears would’ve drawn up for Roquan. Maybe there’s something here?
  • David Long, TitansThe Bears just hired a former Titans staffer as their assistant offensive line coach. And while that might not necessarily help in the possible recruitment of Long, having someone who had an in-person, eyes-on look at him could be helpful. PFF forecasts a 4-year deal worth up to $40 million for the 26-year-old linebacker, which comes in at a $10M AAV.
  • Bobby Okereke, Colts — There has been ample smoke connecting the Bears and Okereke, who could get something in the neighborhood of $12-14 million per year:

Seeing a handful of intriguing fits has me thinking about the Bears filling a hole with a high-price free agent. Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather the Bears draft, develop, and extend players at this position. But having north of $70 million in cap space makes this a good time to take a risk. Sure, I wouldn’t mind if the Bears ran it back with Jack Sanborn in the middle of their defense. Sanborn was looking good when given a larger snap load. And I’d like to see him get a shot at taking that position and make it his own. However, I don’t think I’d be mad if someone from the group above was joining Sanborn in the linebackers’ room this offseason.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.