Keep him or trade him, Ryan Poles needs to solve Roquan Smith standoff quickly

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Regardless of the missteps that led to the Bears being at odds with their best player, there are still two viable paths forward.

General manager Ryan Poles can give Smith exactly what he has asked for and trade him for draft picks. The market would likely dictate a best-case offer of a 2023 first- and third-round pick, one source predicted.

Or, Poles can pony up the cash to secure Smith’s place as a pillar of the franchise.

But either way, he needs to get moving. The current awkwardness is untenable.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’ve still got to prepare ourselves to play football for the season,” veteran defensive end Robert Quinn said. “That’s between him and [management] to figure out… We’d love to have Roquan’s situation settled, but that’s above my pay grade.”

Poles likely felt that urgency Wednesday afternoon when he activated Smith from the Physically Unable to Perform list. It’s a countermove to the trade request he dropped on the team the day before and it forces Smith into a decision. Now that he’s been declared healthy, will he practice?

When Smith reported to training camp on time despite his frustration over contract talks, putting him on the PUP list was a nice gesture by the organization to buy time.

For his part, Smith made a similar good-faith effort by showing up to every non-mandatory offseason practice even though negotiations were far from fruitful the entire time. Smith has also been at every practice during his “hold in,” including Wednesday. He typically does conditioning drills on the side.

But the mutual friendliness has clearly expired.

The Bears can’t Smith him for not practicing as long as he continues showing up at Halas Hall, but he’ll no longer have the cover of being on an inactive list.

It’s a step that should speed up the resolution of this standoff, which has reached a point of significant concern now that Smith has missed two weeks of practice and the preseason is about to begin. The Bears are one month from their season opener against the 49ers.

Poles needs this wrapped up by the end of the weekend. Sign him or trade him, but don’t let practice start Monday with this unnecessary drama still lingering. Instead, use Monday as the re-launch. The Bears can still contain this to a relatively minor footnote, especially if they work out a contract extension.

But if it drags on, it won’t be long before this mess spills into the actual season. That would be an alarming sign of dysfunction at Halas Hall, even in a rebuilding season.

Keeping Smith would be the most prudent move. Poles inherited a roster sparse with stars, but he’s one of them. He’s one of the best in the NFL at his position, he’ll thrive in coach Matt Eberflus’ defense and he’s only 25. This is a fully developed, highly versatile linebacker at the onset of his prime.

As a first-time general manager, Poles is undoubtedly very concerned about precedents — and rightly so.

He absolutely needs to make it clear to agents that he won’t be worked. (Smith fired his agent in 2020 and represents himself, further complicating the situation). But he should also be wary of the message he’d send by declining to pay and keep a homegrown talent of Smith’s caliber. The rest of the league will be watching that aspect closely as well.

And even after Smith’s trade request, it’s still very possible Poles can mend the relationship. In the past year, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard and 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel backed off similar demands and signed new deals. It can be done.

“Public things have been said, but money talks,” a source said. “If the money’s right, all is right in the world.”

Smith’s appeal for chairman George McCaskey to interview was quite a jab at Poles, but it also signaled he’s very much open to returning.

Poles clearly believes that, too. He didn’t want to talk long Tuesday, but stopped to answer one last question shouted to him from the back of the press conference room at Soldier Field before he went back to the locker room:

What does Smith signal by continuing to show up to work, including attending meetings and communicating with Eberflus on a daily basis?

“I think he wants to be a Chicago Bear, so he’s doing what he should do and continuing to be around the group and staying engaged,” Poles said.

It’s clear from that observation that both sides think there’s a solution. But every day that goes by without it being reached hurts the Bears and looks bad for Poles.

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