The Bears came to grips with a tough situation near the last season's trade deadline.
Newly hired general manager Ryan Poles and his staff decided to trade franchise cornerstone Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a second - and fifth-round pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL draft.
Sam Acho, a former Bears player from 2015-18, tried rationalizing the situation through the lens of Poles and the Bears.
"Remember our Facebook, the relationship status, I'm single or married, it's complicated. That's kind of what it was with the Bears," Acho said on the Under Center podcast. "Ryan Poles and the Bears wanted to keep Roquan Smith. Period. They wanted him. But it's complicated."
It was complicated.
A series of complications terminated the time between the Bears and Smith. The All-Pro linebacker working without an agent undoubtedly hurt the conversations. Smith was reportedly asking for the highest contract in his position's history, around $100 million over five years (the deal he got with the Ravens).
He also didn't fit the Bears' and Matt Eberflus' defensive system. Smith's game relies heavily on tackles. He's topped the charts in that category. Yet, for Smith's position, Eberflus made it clear he wants a turnover machine, which Smith isn't. Who is? Eberflus had the best one in the league with Shaquille Leonard in Indianapolis. Leonard recorded 12 turnovers in 2021. The most Smith ever recorded in a single season was three.
"That was one of the things that I had a conversation with Ryan Poles," Acho said. "He talked about how complicated it can be in situations like that. He wanted to keep Roquan, but it just didn't work out with what they're trying to do with the team."
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In turn, the Bears turned his services into future assets before his inevitable departure in the offseason. He would have been an unrestricted free agent.
Upon arriving in Baltimore, Smith expressed his shock saying Poles told him he'd never planned to trade him, yet build around him. Smith did, however, request a trade from the team during the summer. Then, he conducted a hold-in by showing up, but not participating, in practice until his contract negotiations were settled.
The move to make Smith a Raven, while difficult, was smart for the current state of their organization. They didn't pay a contract they didn't feel like paying, while setting a standard for future negotiations. With Smith and Robert Quinn's trade, they helped build up nearly $100 million in cap space this offseason – the most in the NFL by a large margin.
"From Ryan Poles' perspective, there's a salary cap and there's so many other holes on our offense, on our offensive line, at receiver. You can even say the defensive line, edge rusher," Acho said.
The Bears are looking to fix the plethora of holes that riddle their roster, from a cap space perspective in free agency and with the No. 1 pick they received for the NFL draft.
And while the jettison of Smith stings, it hopes to prove as a sacrifice to the future success of the Bears.
"Do I think it was a mistake? No, I don't think it was a mistake because of all the salary cap space that the Bears have now," Acho said. "Am I happy for Roquan? Yes. I couldn't be more ecstatic for Roquan. At one of the best defenses in the NFL trying to go in a Super Bowl over the next foreseeable future.
"I think it's one of those things that a tough pill to swallow because that's your best player on defense and you have to let him go. I don't think either side was necessarily happy. But sometimes the business of football doesn't let every situation work out the way you hope."