As reported by Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun Times, Bears head coach Matt Nagy provided more insight into the language that’s holding up No. 8 overall pick Roquan Smith’s contract negotiations.
The issue, as first reported by Pro Football Talk, involves concern about the NFL’s new helmet-tackling rule (where you cannot under any circumstances lower your head) allowing for immediate ejection and possible suspension for a player that initiates contact with their helmet. Specifically, Smith’s camp wants protections that he won’t lose guaranteed money due to an ejection or suspension resulting from this new rule. The rule can be applied to any player, but is certainly more likely to affect a player in a high-tackling position who had 137 tackles in his senior year at Georgia.
Regarding whether Smith’s camp was seeking financial protections against guarantees lost to this rule, Nagy confirmed that this was “part of the issue,” but declined to go into details to respect the privacy of both camps. Nagy also added that “very few” of the other rookies signed this year had similar language in their contracts. Which of course suggests that at least some of them did.
This clarifies what has seemed to be an unnecessary delay in the signing of the Bears’ first-round pick and hopeful face of the defense. It also reveals a situation that may not be resolved quickly.
From the perspective of Smith and his agents, it’s understandable that they don’t want his guaranteed money to be vulnerable to the subjective judgment of the same officiating body that robbed Zach Miller of a touchdown on a heroic knee-exploding touchdown on a fateful 2017 Sunday morning in New Orleans.
From the Bears’ perspective, it’s understandable that they don’t want to set a precedent of providing protections allowing players to receive all their guaranteed money—even if the player is repeatedly suspended.
Although I understand both positions, my bias is with Smith. I think the Bears should agree to guarantee Smith’s terms because he’s a top 10 pick in a high-tackling position and because we all want to see that him his reps and tear it up in training camp and the preseason. If a future player wants the same protections, they can kindly explain that they don’t get the Smith special because they aren’t a transcendent player at the most important position in Bears history.