NFLTR Review: Landing Spots For Roquan Smith 

As the standoff between the Bears and star LB Roquan Smith continues, we dive into the situation:

  • Why a trade is probably a longshot
  • BUT because that’s no fun, a few teams that might make sense
  • What the Browns & Deshaun Watson don’t want you to see

Around The Trade Block: Roquan Smith

Last week, someone claiming to represent Bears LB Roquan Smith was making the rounds calling NFL teams to gauge trade interest in the star linebacker currently embroiled in a contract standoff in Chicago. The league quickly shut that down, as the individual isn’t an NFLPA-certified agent and the Bears haven’t given permission for any team to have any contact with Smith. But it does illustrate how Smith is casting about trying to find some sort of resolution to a situation that hasn’t left him with many options. 

The reality, though, is other teams know they have a window to trade for Smith if they want him. They didn’t need a call from a shadow agent. There hasn’t been much smoke around a potential deal, and I would wager it’s because the market for Smith isn’t that strong. 

Why aren’t teams lining up to add a two-time second-team All-Pro linebacker who’s just 25 years old? Let’s back up for a second and set the table. The Bears drafted Smith with the No. 8 overall pick in 2018 and he was terrific as a rookie. There was a sophomore slump in 2019 but he’s rebounded the past two seasons to solidify himself as one of the better linebackers in the game. 

How good exactly is Smith? There’s some debate. From a production standpoint, he has the high tackle numbers, ranking No. 3 among all linebackers since he entered the league in 2018. But that’s a hollow way to judge the position. A better way is to look at the splash plays, and with 30 tackles for loss, Smith leads the way among all inside linebackers the past two seasons. His seven sacks are tied for second and he’s in the top 10 with 10 pass deflections and three interceptions. 

Two second-team All-Pro nods is strong validation, but not everyone is so complimentary. He was just 62nd out of 87 players at his position according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s a little smaller and shorter than some teams prefer for their inside linebackers. Most people don’t question if he’s good or not, but when he’s seeking to become the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker at about $20 million a season, these sorts of things become relevant. 

That’s where the divide between Smith and the Bears reportedly is. He’s in the final year of his contract and scheduled to make $9.7 million on the fifth-year option. Colts LB Shaquille Leonard and 49ers LB Fred Warner lead the market with salaries over $19 million a season, and Smith views himself in the same company. Chicago doesn’t, at least not right now. Smith could change new GM Ryan Poles and HC Matt Eberflus’ mind with a great 2021 season, but he has a legitimate argument to be paid now. All of his actions — refusing to practice, releasing a public trade request, shopping himself to other teams — are to try and smoke out a team that’s willing to do that. 

There’s been no indication of any serious bidders to this point and I don’t think there will be by Week 1. The price to acquire Smith would be steep. Beyond a market-setting contract, a team would have to give up significant draft compensation to the Bears, probably a minimum of a second-round pick.

That’s a lot to ask for an off-ball linebacker, which is a position that has dropped in importance over the past few years. Smith was the first to go in the top 10 since Luke Kuechly and the players who have followed since — Buccaneers LB Devin White, Steelers LB Devin Bush and Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons — have had mixed results. Meanwhile, both Warner and Leonard were Day 2 picks.

It’d be a hard sell for a general manager to give up a second-round pick for the right to pay Smith $20 million a year when he can either use the pick next spring to take a stab at getting a starting inside linebacker or just use the money to go after Smith in free agency. There’s a good chance Smith will make it to unrestricted free agency, as Over The Cap projects the franchise tag for linebackers in 2023 to be $18.3 million, which seems rich for Chicago’s blood right now. 

Unfortunately for Smith, who could potentially be accruing fines for his absences now, it doesn’t look like he has many options available to him other than to play out the 2022 season, hope it goes well, and then cash in next year. It might not be fair but it’s the way the system is set up for players right now. 

Trade Destinations

While the chances of a trade seem slim, the NFL has admittedly become wilder and wilder when it comes to trades in recent years. So while the chances of Smith being traded are low, they’re not zero…

Factoring in the teams that need inside linebackers, the scheme fits and the teams that can afford the steep acquisition cost, there aren’t a ton of clean fits. I won’t get into every team but there were several that stood out as worth going into more detail, either as fits or not as fits. 


There hasn’t been much buzz about a Smith trade, but Dallas is one of the few teams that has come up in speculation from various places. A lot of people still associate owner Jerry Jones with the big, splashy move, but the Cowboys have been far more measured, if not outright conservative, in recent seasons as EVP Stephen Jones and VP Will McClay exert more control over personnel. I’m sure they’d love to add Smith to team up with 2022 DROY Micah Parsons but the cost would be prohibitive. 


Despite spending a first-round pick last year on LB Jamin Davis, the position still isn’t quite to HC Ron Rivera’s liking. And he knows great linebacker play. Smith would be a sizable upgrade to Cole Holcomb at middle linebacker and allow Davis to remain in the weakside role without too many mental responsibilities. Does it make sense, though, to invest that much in a linebacker when you might need to allocate more resources to fix the quarterback position next offseason? 


They have one of the weakest linebacker units in the NFL on paper but this just isn’t a position they prioritize. The third-rounder they just used on LB Nakobe Dean is their most significant investment in the position in years. 


There’s probably not a long-term, high-level starter at linebacker on the roster right now. Smith has some blitzing skills that could shine in DC Don Martindale’s system and would be a foundational piece for a team that needs a lot of talent. But they don’t have the cap space to take on his deal and would be hard-pressed to free it up. It also doesn’t make sense to spend the picks and assets it would take to bring in Smith at this stage of their rebuild. 


Baltimore is still waiting for young LBs Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison to really step up and solidify the position, though there have been more flashes from Queen than Harrison. Smith would bring back the standard the Ravens are accustomed to having at the position. However, it’s not the organizational MO to pay the kind of premium it would take to acquire him, at least right now. 


The presence of former Bears executive Champ Kelly is why it’s worth highlighting the Raiders. Kelly was a part of a front office that liked Smith enough to make him a top-ten draft pick and he holds a senior role with the Raiders. That said, Las Vegas is in an okay position at linebacker right now, especially for the type of defense DC Patrick Graham wants to run. The Raiders are also light on draft capital after some of their moves this offseason. 


On paper, the Broncos have what looks like a massive need at inside linebacker. Josey Jewell is perfectly adequate and that’s about it, while the other linebacker spot was set to go to former career special teamer Jonas Griffith until he dislocated his elbow, prompting Denver to sign Joe Schobert. This will be Schobert’s fourth team in four seasons. Smith would be a tremendous upgrade and have the added bonus of being a terrific fit in the defensive system. 

However, the Broncos have been perfectly content with their roster all offseason at linebacker and don’t seem to view it with much of a sense of urgency. They also spent a ton of picks trading for QB Russell Wilson and have to think about what will be an enormous extension for him next offseason in all likelihood. In that context, trading for Smith doesn’t make as much sense. 


The Falcons have shown a strong proclivity for former Bears in the past couple of offseasons and signed several, likely due to the number of former Bears coaches on the staff. Familiarity plays a big role in player movement around the NFL, and to add another layer to it, Smith played college football nearby at Georgia. A return to his home state would surely be appealing. 

Smith would also be a terrific fit in DC Dean Pees’ scheme with his ability to cover and blitz. While the Falcons have been pretty cap-strapped, they do actually have enough to take on Smith’s deal in 2022, and their books going forward are in pretty clean shape. 

The catch is the Falcons have already made a number of additions to their inside linebacker group, using a second-round pick on Troy Andersen, signing Rashaan Evans and Nick Kwiatkoski and drafting Mykal Walker last season. Deion Jones remains on the team on top of all that. Smith is better than all of them, but is it worth paying the premium for the upgrade? Regardless, the combination of familiarity, fit and need make the Falcons one of the best fits out there for Smith. 


Head coach Brandon Staley was with the Bears as the outside linebackers coach in 2017 and 2018, the latter of which happened to be Smith’s stellar rookie season. He’s already dipped into his past with Chicago in trading for OLB Khalil Mack this offseason, and Los Angeles has a gaping hole still right in the middle of its defense at inside linebacker. Smith would be the player the Chargers were hoping to get when they traded up in the first round in 2019 for Kenneth Murray

And while a Day 2 pick and $20 million a year is a ton to give up, if there’s any team positioned to do it, it might be the Chargers. Having star QB Justin Herbert on a rookie deal for a couple more seasons is going to afford them awesome roster flexibility. They have the margin for error to take some risks with draft picks and load up salary elsewhere. They just traded a second-round pick for Mack under that premise, and while he plays a more important position than Smith, the latter is several years younger. 

This Week In Football

This section will be different than most weeks, as there’s really one news story this week that looms large over everything else. After more than a year and a half, a resolution was finally delivered regarding Browns QB Deshaun Watson. He and the NFL reached a disciplinary settlement increasing his suspension from six to 11 games and adding a $5 million fine. The NFL is also requiring mandatory behavioral evaluation and treatment, including counseling. If he checks those boxes, Watson will be back this season after sitting out in 2021. 

There are plenty of football implications, but we have time to talk about those later. The Browns and Watson would love nothing more than for the conversation to just be about football right now. The theme in Cleveland on Thursday was about finding a resolution and moving forward. The team released a statement supposedly from Watson apologizing “for any pain this situation has caused” and saying he is taking “accountability for the decisions I’ve made.” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam added, “We’ve seen him grow over the last four to five months, I think we’ve seen him recognize some things that he wished he’d done differently, positions he wished he’d not put himself into.” 

That’s about as much as anyone would address Watson’s actions. In fact, no one from the Browns or Watson’s camp will ever refer to the serious misconduct on his part in anything beyond vague generalities and sterilized euphemisms, if they don’t deny it altogether. 

That’s why the most important thing to do right now — and going forward as Watson attempts to win his way back into the public’s good graces — is to be crystal clear about why he was just suspended 11 games and hasn’t played football since 2020. 

These are facts that have been established from investigations conducted by police and the NFL, depositions in the 24 civil cases that were brought against him, and details from even more women who chose not to file lawsuits but still wanted their stories heard. 

  • Watson decided to reach out to private massage therapists on social media, to as many as 66 women, with zero interest in making sure they qualified for the job despite having access to professional therapists employed by the team. 
  • He insisted on using his own towel rather than the standard draping used to cover most of the body. This towel was described as small or medium-sized at best and regularly would fall off during sessions, exposing Watson’s penis. 
  • He would then purposefully make contact with the women with his penis, in some cases ejaculating on them. Some of the women say Watson was much more forceful in the sexual contact he initiated and many said it was clear he came to these appointments looking for sex. 
  • Watson and his legal team have not denied that sexual contact took place, they have instead maintained it was all consensual and nothing rose to the level of a crime. The exact quote from his lawyer back in the spring was, “A happy ending’s not illegal.” 
  • Consent is obviously disputed by the two dozen women deciding to sue him and the findings of the NFL’s independent arbitrator. None of the women the league talked to booked follow-up appointments with Watson. 
  • Ashley Solis, the first therapist to sue Watson and to come forward publicly, testified she was in tears at the end of their session after Watson kept touching her with his penis. Watson admitted he saw her crying and sent her an apology text after, though claimed to not know why she was crying. 
  • The sheer number of accusations against Watson is part of why this situation is so disturbing, but people also aren’t good at wrapping their heads around large numbers. That’s why more specific details shared by all the women who’ve come forward are important and worth reading if you haven’t. 

None of this is information the Browns or Watson want you to see. I cannot emphasize enough: from this moment forward they will do whatever they can to get everyone to move on. They’ll emphasize personal growth and forgiveness, and argue that everyone deserves a second chance. 

Conveniently, they skip over the step where Watson acknowledges wrongdoing and makes restitution. He made it blatantly clear today that he still doesn’t think he did anything wrong and “stands on his innocence.”

Both of his apologies fall apart on closer inspection as being classic “I’m sorry if you were offended” doublespeak rather than genuine acknowledgments of wrongdoing. His true feelings are probably much closer to a tweet from his agent, David Mulugheta, who said, “To be clear, Judge Robinson repeated the NFL’s narrative. She received a brief from the NFL weeks before we had the opportunity to talk to her. In our 1st call with the Judge she referred to “Deshaun’s pattern of behavior”. Her mind was made up before we ever presented a counter.”

He deleted that one but left this one up. 

In Watson’s mind, he’s the real victim here, railroaded by the league and the court of public opinion in some sort of conspiracy. That’s why the response needs to be to center the real victims and not fall for any accountability lip service or obfuscation of what really happened. 

We’ve seen this happen before, as Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger shrugged off disturbing rape allegations and a six-game suspension years ago that largely go unmentioned when discussing his legacy. Watson’s suspension being almost twice as long shows the world is a little bit different now. But the playbook for the Browns and Watson remains the same. They want you to forget, and they’re betting you will when he starts throwing touchdowns and winning games. 

Don’t lose sight of the people really at the center of this story, though. Don’t forget what this is really about. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

Here’s a roundup of the rest of the NFL news cycle this week: 

  • The Jets caught a break as second-year QB Zach Wilson was diagnosed with a bone bruise and torn meniscus, not an ACL tear. Wilson will miss some time but not the whole season, which is huge for his development. 
  • Carolina hasn’t made an official announcement yet, but all signs are pointing toward Baker Mayfield being named the starting quarterback. It was obvious things were heading this way when the Panthers traded for Mayfield, all he had to do was not fall on his face. 
  • Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, who is acting as his own agent, said he would cut off talks around Week 1, which makes sense as he’d want his focus to be on the season at that point. Deadlines spur action, and we’re still a little ways away from the deadline, so if this is going to happen, it might not be for another week or two. 
  • Chargers S Derwin James ended his long hold-in by finally agreeing to a monster deal with Los Angeles. It’s a four-year deal worth about $19.4 million a season, which pushes the market forward even more for the safety position. James also got excellent guarantees, which is notable given his injury history. 
  • Finally, the weird situation with Buccaneers QB Tom Brady being absent for well over a week in the middle of training camp continues and things just aren’t adding up. Tampa Bay maintains this was agreed upon before the start of camp and is nothing unexpected, yet there’s no definitive date for Brady to return to the team, which doesn’t make sense if this was a planned absence. And there’s not a lot of info to fill in the gaps. Perhaps this turns into a nothing burger but it’s worth keeping an eye on until then…

People have been trying to trade Browns RB Kareem Hunt and Raiders RB Josh Jacobs all preseason on Twitter and in media. I just don’t buy it at all. For one, both are super affordable on their current deals and are key offensive pieces for a couple of teams with legit playoff aspirations. They’re more valuable on the roster this season than a fourth or fifth-round pick…

Ryan Tannehill deserves some major kudos for being honest about the number that playoff loss did on his mental health. Most NFL players don’t talk about injuries for fear of it being perceived as a weakness for other teams to capitalize on. But to de-stigmatize the conversation around mental health, we need people like Tannehill to be open about their experiences. Hopefully the sports media environment handles this topic with the care it deserves…

Titans third-round QB Malik Willis turned some heads in his preseason debut, but honestly I’d have been concerned if he didn’t. Willis’ strengths are a cannon for an arm and wheels like a running back, both of which were on display…against a vanilla gameplan and backups. Playing the position requires getting the ball out on time more consistently, which Willis struggled with. It’s good to see his strengths are still his strengths, he just has a long way to go…

That was the theme for most of the rookies in this draft class. Most of them looked like their college scouting reports. Commanders QB Sam Howell flashed a big arm and mobility, but held onto the ball too long. Steelers QB Kenny Pickett was efficient and in command, albeit against third-stringers. Falcons QB Desmond Ridder made some big-time throws but completed just 10 of his 22 pass attempts…

The exception was Panthers QB Matt Corral, who looked jittery and in over his head in a 1-9 passing performance in the fourth quarter against Washington. However, it doesn’t appear the Panthers have done him any favors with their developmental plan. The competition between Darnold and Mayfield has vacuumed up a lot of reps in camp, and journeyman P.J. Walker is still in town and getting significant playing time. If Carolina really views Corral as a potential future option, every rep that goes to Walker instead of him is a waste. It’s another curious decision by HC Matt Rhule

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