The NFL’s Pro Bowl rosters have long been dismissed as nothing more than popularity contests, and it’s a theory that may have actually been proven true this season by Chicago Bears linebacker, Roquan Smith.
Smith was generally considered one of the league’s biggest Pro Bowl snubs after failing to make the NFC’s roster despite a season that ended with a career-high 163 tackles, three sacks, and an interception. His tackles total was fifth-best in the NFL. Still, it wasn’t enough to be picked for the league’s All-Star game.
Instead, the NFC’s inside linebackers are Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks) and Micah Parsons (Dallas Cowboys). Parsons, while incredibly productive and truly special as a rookie, excelled more as an edge defender than as an inside linebacker. Parsons played more snaps at left outside linebacker (250) than any other position in 2021. But, who’s counting, right?
As a result, Smith was left on the outside looking in. But as is the case with most things in life, the truth usually prevails. For Smith, the truth about his level of play in 2021 was revealed by this year’s NFL All-Pro Team. He was one of three linebackers to make the cut.
“Smith is tied for second among all linebackers in run stuffs with 19, and he's tallied an incredible 88 stops on 963 total defensive snaps,” NFL.com’s Nick Shook wrote in a breakdown of the All-Pro team. “Add in six quarterback pressures, four hurries, and three sacks, and you have a three-down linebacker living up to his status as a first-round pick out of Georgia. Oh, and we can't forget his one interception, three passes defended, and 163 total tackles, the fifth-most in the NFL. The Bears struggled in 2021, but they had a few defenders put together fantastic seasons. Smith is certainly one of them.”
Smith was more than just a defender on the Bears who put together a fantastic season; he’s one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL who, if he played for a team in the hunt for the Super Bowl, would be on the shortlist of names considered for Defensive Player of the Year.
Smith is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract and is on the books for $9.7 million in 2022. He’s at the top of Chicago’s heap of players who need to be signed to a lucrative second contract, and it might be one that resets the inside linebacker market.
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is fresh off signing a five-year, $98.5 million deal last August and it’s reasonable to expect Smith will sign for a tick more than that as early as this offseason. At least, he’s going to demand that he’s paid more. It’ll represent an average annual salary increase of about $10 million per year for a player who’s emerged as the most irreplaceable piece on Chicago’s defense. The Bears will have a new general manager in charge of these contract negotiations, and it’ll serve as an interesting test for how much the GM-next values retaining homegrown stars.
The Bears will have roughly $40 million in salary-cap space to begin the 2022 offseason, according to Over the Cap, and that already factors in the nearly $10 million they’re obligated to pay Smith this year. There’s no excuse not to re-sign him in the coming months and make sure that the team’s defensive MVP remains in Chicago throughout the prime of his career.
Failing to re-sign Smith will be the ultimate snub. And it won’t be to him; it’ll be to the fans.