How Roquan went from centerpiece of Bears' rebuild to traded


​LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In the end, Bears general manager saw the writing on the wall with linebacker Roquan Smith. As much as Poles loved "the player and the person," the Bears' future wasn't going to include Smith.

On Monday, Poles traded Smith to the Baltimore Ravens for a 2023 second-round pick, 2023 fifth-round pick, and linebacker A.J. Klein.

When Poles took the job to lead the Bears' rebuild in January, he did so believing Smith would be part of his overall vision. It's clear that the contentious contract extension negotiations this summer, which included a trade demand and hold-in from Smith, altered those plans.

"There's part of me that's bummed because this was a guy that I thought was going to be here for a long time," Poles said Tuesday of Smith. "I felt like we put a lot of effort forward to get that done, and we came up short. We couldn't find common ground. And that's just a part of this business, which I think we all understand."

In August, Smith publicly requested a trade. Poles and the Bears declined that request. When Smith ended his hold-in from training camp, he announced he was betting on himself but that his overall feelings about his future in Chicago hadn't changed.

On Oct. 26, Smith reiterated that his feelings hadn't changed despite the time away from negotiations.

Smith and the Bears exchanged final numbers before the season started. With no chance of the two sides reaching a long-term agreement in sight, Poles decided to ship away a player he once viewed as essential to his championship vision.

"Because of what we just mentioned in terms of not being able to find common ground to continue to move forward," Poles said when asked how things changed with Smith. "There is — the reality of it is that you have to ask yourself a question — are we ever going to find that middle ground from our previous conversations you gather that information and it felt like it was highly unlikely.

"So then, are you able to then take the opportunity to enhance your roster now? Or are you OK with the chance that he walks away and we can’t use some of that to enhance our roster? And that’s what it came down to and I felt like we had to move forward at that time."

Smith reportedly wanted the Bears to make him the highest-paid off-ball linebacker in the NFL. He wanted to reset the market as every great player does. In August, Poles said the Bears' offer had "record-breaking" aspects to it. Smith called the Bears' negotiating process "distasteful."

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Smith sees himself in the same category as San Francisco 49ers star Fred Warner and Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard.

Poles wouldn't compare Smith to Warner and Leonard on Tuesday but the fact that Smith is in Baltimore and not on a long-term deal in Chicago makes their feelings clear.

"We had a difference in value," Poles said. "I’m not going to go into exactly where he slots and all of that. But at the same time, you want players to think highly of themselves. You want them to understand that they are the best at their position. I don’t fault him for that. But we had that conversation and obviously, it just didn’t work out."

Ten months ago, Roquan Smith was a key piece in Ryan Poles' puzzle to rebuild the Bears. On Monday, that puzzle changed drastically.

As it turns out, Poles and Smith did eventually find common ground -- in the unavoidable reality that there was no future for Smith in Chicago.

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