Shortly after this space was used to implore Ryan Poles to get a deal done with Roquan Smith, the GM did something that surely moved the sides further apart. Poles met the media for an odd press conference, accusing the linebacker of being overly emotional and insisting the deal Smith wanted didn’t “make sense” for the team. While he complimented Roquan as a player and clearly stated his intention to resign him, it is fair to wonder if that was just GM talk, especially after reports came out that the Bears’ offer was backloaded with money that Smith would likely never receive.
[Editor’s Note: While these reports were delivered by reputable media members, they surely do not tell the whole story of the contract dispute. They tell Roquan’s side of the story.]
Does Poles want to sign Smith? Only on his terms. The Bears later removed Smith from the Physically Unable to Perform list, leaving two sides are at a stalemate. It’s impossible to think that the team is better off without Smith or that any draft assets they would get in a trade would be fair value. The best play for Poles, at this point, would be to give in to Smith and sign him to a deal that someone who is clearly one of the best linebackers in the league deserves.
But Roquan Smith won’t define Poles’ tenure as GM and that became clear on Saturday, when fans got their first look at his first assembled roster. It was a reminder that his tenure will be defined by the players he selects, not the ones here upon his arrival. And while it is always risky to put stock in preseason games, there were exciting flashes from Poles’ new acquisitions.
All reports since Day One have been that Jaquan Brisker is a stud and he looked the part, flying around the field against Kansas City. Every time we saw that heat-seeking missile flying around the secondary it was impossible to forget he was, essentially, the return in the Khalil Mack trade. (It’s reminiscent of one of Ryan Pace’s first big moves – trading Brandon Marshall for a pick that ultimately became Adrian Amos.)
Tristan Ebner made a couple big plays, Jack Sanborn was all over the place, Dom Robinson had a sack, Trent Gill had several nice punts and Braxton Jones held his own at left tackle. We didn’t even see two of the Day Two picks, as Kyler Gordon and Velus Jones were both out. In Gordon’s case, the reports have been similar to Brisker in that everyone seems to agree he is already really good with the potential to be a star. There is no reason to overreact to these performances, but they do give us hope and offer a reminder that Poles has a long-term vision far more important to him than what we see in front of our faces.
Poles had two choices when he took the job. He could’ve attempted to revamp the roster and compete right away or tear it down. He chose the latter and, as painful as that can be for fans, we have no choice but to let it play out and hope he chose wisely.
It isn’t just about Smith. If Justin Fields doesn’t work out, that will go on Pace’s tab — just as Pace isn’t blamed for Jay Cutler ultimately not succeeding. The new GM just has to make sure he gets the right QB. Of course, if Fields is a stud, that is one less thing Poles has to worry about.
Smith is a great player and could really explode in this scheme, but if Poles lets him go and brings in another stud linebacker, everybody will be OK with it. As good as Mack and Smith are, Poles inherited a roster without a single irreplaceable player. He just has to make sure he finds quality replacements and builds a contending team. If the team wins, nobody cares which specific players are actually part of that, or what unconventional methods he took to get there.