In the last week, we have seen Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Poles trade two of the most productive players on the defense away to acquire draft picks for next year. The two traded players, defensive end Robert Quinn and Will linebacker Roquan Smith, were not only productive players but players who were both leaders and important pieces of their locker room culture. Were these moves the right thing to do?
First, let's talk about the Quinn trade. A year ago, Robert set the franchise record by recording 18.5 sacks. This season he had just one sack at the time of the trade, but he did have several pressures. He was also one of the most double-teamed players in the League through the first seven weeks of the season.
I absolutely get trading Quinn; good pass rushers are hard to find, and teams will pay a premium for one, even if it's just a rental (as Quinn is for the Eagles). Add to that Quinn being 32 years old, we know his remaining days in the League are limited. Still, he was well respected by his teammates, and his loss showed in the defense's poor performance Sunday in Dallas.
Yesterday, starting Will linebacker Roquan Smith was dealt to Baltimore for second and fifth-round draft picks and backup linebacker A.J. Klein. Smith was perhaps the best player on the defense and the leading tackler not only on the team but in the entire NFL.
In the Bears' scheme, the Will linebacker is one of the most important positions in the scheme, and if a team is going to trade away a player like Smith, it can and will leave a void on the defense. Finding a replacement who is close to as talented and as productive as Smith will be difficult. The facts are they may never find someone as good, at least not in the near future.
While I understand the trading of Quinn, I do not totally understand the trading of Smith. In the 30+ years I spent in the League, I was taught that you draft, develop and reward your own players. Smith was Chicago's number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, a Top 10 selection. He's a home-grown talent; why would they not want to keep him?
Granted, Smith, who is coming out of contract, wanted to be one of the highest-paid linebackers in the League. That means he would have to get a contract that had a value of somewhere between 18 and 20 Million per year. That is what the top inside linebackers around the League are being paid. After having Smith in this scheme for about half of the season, the Bears' decision-makers felt that Smith would not be worth that kind of contract.
I am on record as saying several times that this season is basically a tryout year for the current players on the Bears roster. The decision-makers are trying to find out who is a fit and who isn't. They will have a solid answer by the end of the season.
The draft picks the Bears have acquired in the trades can help rebuild the franchise IF the picks are used correctly. As of this morning, the Bears have five picks in the top three rounds of next April's Draft. Depending on where those picks end up and if Poles tries to trade down, the five picks could turn into six or seven. That will make Draft Day even more interesting.
Add to that the fact the Bears will have more than double the cap space of any other team in the League with over $120 Million available means the Bears have the potential to rebuild quickly. The big question is, "will the Bears use all that money next year?" Ryan Poles does not strike me as a man who will overspend for anyone, and I say that in a good way. Prudent use of cap space is the key to long-term team building.
We saw Sunday that the pass rush without Quinn was not as productive as it had been in previous weeks. Time will tell over the rest of the season if the Bears are going to have to acquire a premium edge pass rusher next spring in veteran free agency or the Draft,
As for the Will linebacker position, I have some ideas about who will replace Smith. Some fans feel that undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn will be placed at the Will position. While that could be the case, I'm not sure Sanborn is a natural Will. I'm guessing, but the current Mike Nick Morrow could move over to Will and then place Sanborn at Mike. In my opinion, Sanborn is steadier and a better fit at Mike. Another option is Sterling Weatherford. Weatherford had a very good pre-season for the Colts, and they were upset that the Bears claimed him at the 53-man cutdown. Weatherford is fast and very instinctive, two traits needed at either Will or Mike. Whatever happens, it will be worked out in practice this week.
How the new duo plays the remainder of the season will determine how or if the Bears will look for players at those positions next spring.
The other name on the Bears roster that has been linked to a potential trade is running back David Montgomery. Like Quinn and Smith, Mongomery is highly respected in the locker room and is a team leader. Will the team actually trade Montgomery?
Last night I had a couple of text conversations with two very high-level decision-makers in the League. My question to them was, "has Montgomery been the subject of potential trades for tomorrow." The answer I got from both was, "to the best of my knowledge, I haven't heard anything on Montgomery." Another added, "he's a running back, the Bears wouldn't get much back in return."
Those texts don't mean Montgomery won't be traded, but it does mean that he's not as "hot" in trade talks as many believe. Still, it only takes one call to change things. Stay tuned, the trade deadline is today at 3:00 p.m Chicago time.