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WCG Talks The Roquan Smith Holdout: Part 1 - Who do you blame?

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With no sign of resolution in sight, the contributors at Windy City Gridiron talked about their views on the Roquan Smith holdout.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago White Sox
Look! He’s in uniform! Sort of...
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Smith Holdout is going strong, and with lots of talking heads giving their opinions and sharing what they have learned from their sources, there are a lot of conflicting stories and opinions out there about the only pick in the 2018 draft who has yet to sign. We decided to do a round-table and share our thoughts on the issue, broken down in three questions which we’ll share in a three-part story.

Here’s our first question...

Do you blame someone more, and if so who and why? The Bears, Smith, is it Just Business, or is there Equal Blame?

Lester: I think it’s just business, but it’s bad business on the part of his agency. The Bears are right to hold firm, but the player has a right to fight for what he wants too. My big question is whether or not his agency, CAA, has Smith’s best interests in mind during this negotiation or if they are trying to set a precedent for future clients.

Then again, as with most situations, there are three sides to this story, Smith’s side, the Bears’ side, and the truth. Without having an attorney dissect the contract, we’ll likely never know the specifics.

Patti: I definitely have mixed feelings about this situation. They’ve oscillated as more information has come out, which makes me think my actual feelings would be different if I had more information. The most recent information I have is from the sideline report from Michelle Tafoya that the language currently under dispute was whether suspensions for “on the field behavior” other than the helmet rule could lead to voided guaranteed money. Currently, I feel frustrated with both the Bears and Roquan’s agent, but not Smith. The overwhelming likelihood is that the language being disputed isn’t going to matter during Roquan’s contract. The dispute most likely falls on the Bears not wanting to set a precedent for future contracts (and most likely they care more about veteran contracts than rookie ones) and CAA wanting to flex their muscles and also set a precedent for their future negotiations.

Eric: To be completely honest, I’m blaming both the Bears’ front office and Roquan Smith’s agent(s). With so many developments and “leaks” favoring each side being revealed in the recent weeks, I truly believe each of those sides are simply posturing for bargaining positions. It will always take two sides to come into a contractual agreement. Just put aside the egos and come to an arrangement already.

Robert: We have so little clear information on both sides considering the not-so-subtle media battle has begun between Smith’s camp and the Bears. From subtweets, to direct national and local Chicago sources giving out little snippets, it looks like there’s more of an aim to inaccurately swing public opinion instead of actually getting a deal done.

That being said, I blame the Bears more. They leaked the helmet rule snafu by design, the only concrete update Matt Nagy has given on the situation all of training camp. And when that didn’t go in their favor or as planned, they quickly shifted to contract language they know no one can publicly check up on and attempted to say “it’s all on Smith.” They’re the party leaving more of that information out in a grey area. I think Halas Hall has drawn a more stubborn line in the sand, as they have more power, and Smith’s camp is merely doing what’s best for their client.

If Smith wanted to end it, he would. But he hasn’t for a good reason.

Aaron: I think that’s a tough answer to formulate. It’s evident both sides are leaking info to make themselves look better.

If it’s truly Roquan’s side not willing to budge on a clause that should indeed allow the team to cut ties if he acts like an idiot on the field or in practice, it’s on him & his agent(s).

If it’s more than that & the Bears are trying to take money away from him for other things somewhat out of control, I’m 100% on the player’s side.

Ultimately, Smith is the biggest loser in this situation and the longer it drags out, the more he stands to lose.

Andrew: Given these options, I think this falls on Smith. Based on the limited information we have, it appears that Smith’s agency (CAA) is trying make a statement and using the Bears to do so. At this point, the Bears shouldn’t simply give in and set a new precedent for the league with this language.

The biggest issue I have with CAA choosing the Bears to pick a fight with is that the Bears are one of the good ones. They have historically taken care of their players with two recent examples being Jerrell Freeman and Zach Miller. We all know what the team did for Miller, but it’s been less widely reported that the team did Freeman a huge solid by waiting to release him. Out of respect for him and his family, I’m not going to get into specifics, but it was a big deal from their perspective.

So who’s the real villain here? Why the NFL of course. If players can’t negotiate new terms for themselves outside of the main negotiations for the CBA, then the NFL can’t change rules that can have major consequences on the current CBA. Rules changes, even ones for safety, must be presented to the NFLPA at the bargaining table just like everything else. So the genesis of this fight was started because the NFL changed some rules which could cause teams—other than the Bears, I’m looking at you Lions—to recoup money or guarantees from players. That’s on the league, the owners, and the commish.

Josh: I blame the Bears, with a heavy dose of Just Business. Football players have the least guaranteed contracts of any group of athletes in major sports, and they tear up their bodies playing for fanbases that scream “cut the bum” as soon as play declines at all. So I have a hard time stomaching the idea that a team is in the right going after the limited amount of guaranteed money already available. I don’t think Smith has any moral imperative to be loyal to an organization that has done nothing for him yet, and so if there has to be a side I support, it’s Smith.

That said, I also think that this is just business, albeit taken to a goofy degree. The rookie wage scale was the veterans in the NFLPA selling out the new guys, and the teams are all doing their utmost to gain some sort of advantage over each other and over their workers. The whole thing is slanted against new players, and that’s the system there is. There was always going to be an instance that was “worse” than the rest. It just sucks that it was the Bears.

Jack: Right now, with little clear information, I have to call this one “just business,” although the way that the information has sputtered out on both sides I sense that once this is settled we will have someone to blame. Other than wanting Roquan Smith’s deal to get done, what bothers me the most is how easily Bears fans have been turned against not Smith’s agents, but Smith. First of all, yes, I know they “work for him.” That’s easier said than done when you’re paying someone or someones to represent your best interest, and when you’re new to these types of relationships.

Secondly, a lot of Bears fans have jumped all over Smith due only to one article from one reporter. That’s not to speak ill of David Haugh. It’s just to say that until that story came out Aug. 1, both sides seemed to be working with the same set of facts, agreeing that contractual language rooted in the uncertainty of the impact of the new helmet rule was driving the wedge between the two sides. Then Haugh reported his update, which included a line that many Bears fans have pounced on: “...his representatives at CAA Football have insisted the Bears go even further and include contract language protecting the player from discipline for behavior outside the realm of a football play.”

That story makes Smith seem not just petty but reckless, as if he’s attempting to write himself a pass for off-field chicanery. Obviously if that’s true, that changes the equation for Bears fan reactions, yet for whatever reason, CAA never responded to Haugh’s story, effectively letting their client twist in the wind. The only response we’ve seen is from Michele Tafoya during the broadcast of the Hall of Fame Game (h/t to my colleagues Patti Curl and Aaron Leming, since I was in and out of the room during the game), who said that Smith wants his guaranteed money protected in the event of “on-the-field suspensions that might result from a fight or an illegal hit.”

Which, again, is basically the exact same thing as the original debate about the helmet rule, and gets us no closer to a conclusion. Yet Bears fans are still killing Roquan online (and, I assume, during call-in segments on 670) and suggesting that he wants permission to, I dunno, stack DUIs and assault octogenarians.

Those are our takes on the first question, stay tuned for part two in about thirty minutes. We all hope these articles will be outdated as soon as they go up, but we’re not going to count on it.