In the latest development in a simmering impasse between the Chicago Bears and Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith, the situation just got worse and more complicated.
That’s in the wake of the NFL Management Council sending a memo to all teams alleging that an individual not licensed as an agent by the NFL Players Association has been in contact with other teams regarding a potential trade for Smith. Under NFL collective bargaining agreement rules.
NFL takes issue with Roquan Smith’s advisor
The memo stated that the individual is Saint Omni. Omni is a veteran financial advisor who has advised other NFL players who have represented themselves without an agent. Players are allowed to receive financial advice in contract talks by outside advisors, as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is doing without a formal agent.
The memo stated: “That a person by the name of Saint Omni, who is not an NFLPA certified agent, is contacting clubs indicating that he is representing Roquan Smith, who is under contract to the Chicago Bears. Mr. Omni is prohibited from negotiating player contracts or discussing potential trades on behalf of any NFL player or prospective player or assisting in or advising with respect to such negotiations.”
And the memo reminded all teams about the rules regarding talking to any non-agents, or other representatives of a player, including agents.
If it was the Bears who informed the NFL that they had a problem with trade discussions, formal or informal, being conducted by Smith’s advisor, that obviously is going to be detrimental to the relationship between the team and Smith’s camp.
What are the rules about trade discussions?
“Unless a prospective club has received written permission from the employer club, entering into discussions with a player or his agent concerning your club’s interest in acquiring the player via trade or otherwise is a violation of the Anti-Tampering Policy,” the memo stated.
“Under no circumstances should a prospective club rely upon any written or oral representation by a player or his agent that he has received permission to enter into any discussions for a trade or contract. Nor should a prospective club rely upon a letter from the employer club to the agent or player granting such permission since employer clubs typically reserve the right to withdraw permission at any time, and may have already done so.
“Written permission must be received directly from the employer club. Any employer electing to grant permission to a player or his representative to seek a trade with another club, whether or not such permission extends to entering into contract negotiations in conjunction with a trade may contact the Management Council regarding appropriate language to preserve the employer club’s rights.
“Under no circumstance should an employer grant oral permission to a player or his representative to see a trade or to enter into contract negotiations with another club.”
Smith has already requested a trade
Smith, due $9 million this year in the final year of his rookie contract and previously represented by Todd France, is definitely due for a major increase in pay.
The Bears and Smith were already far apart in contract negotiations due to their offer being backloaded, according to league sources, with a lot of the compensation coming later on in the contract and it also containing de-escalator clauses not normally included in major deals.
Smith, who has formally requested a trade, wants to become the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL and exceed Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard’s five-year, $99.2 million contract signed last year that includes $52.5 million guaranteed.
Smith isn’t practicing, in a classic “hold-in,” that has become the trend in NFL contract disputes. He was recently activated by the team.
Whether the gap can be bridged is hard to say, but it’s not looking good at the moment. One league source predicted this dispute will go all the way up to and likely into the season.
What’s not in question are Smith’s skills. He’s an excellent linebacker who has recorded 524 career tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and 14 sacks in 61 career games since being drafted eighth overall out of Georgia in 2018.
Smith is a hard-hitting, versatile, athletic linebacker who isn’t currently being compensated at a level that reflects his status as one of the top defensive players in the NFL. That can change, but the Bears and Smith have to get on the same page for that goal to be accomplished.
What the Bears are saying
Bears general manager Ryan Poles recently weighed in on the Smith situation.
“I’ll double down on what I’ve said before. My feelings for Roquan haven’t changed at all,” said Poles, who was hired this offseason after working for the Kansas City Chiefs previously.
“I think he’s a very good football player. I love the kid. I love what he’s done on the field, which makes me really disappointed with where we’re at right now. I thought we’d be in a better situation, to be completely honest with you. In terms of our philosophy in the front office, I’ve always believed and always will that we take care of our homegrown talent.
“We pay them. We take care of them and we take everyone for what they’ve done and what they can become in the future. And with this situation, we’ve showed respect from a very early time frame, and with that said, there’s record-setting pieces of this contract that I thought was going to show him the respect he deserves, and obviously, that hasn’t been the case.”
This has rapidly become a frustration, and a battle of wills between the Bears’ front office and one of the better players to play for Chicago in recent years.
Smith is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 after recording 163 tackles, three sacks, and one interception last season. The Bears, of course, could designate him as their franchise player, but it’s hard to see that happening given the tenor of this unfinished business between the NFC North franchise and one of their most talented players.