Could the Bears have used linebacker Roquan Smith against the Cincinnati Bengals during a first quarter that likely would’ve been the outer limit of his playing time in preseason Game 2? Obviously. John Timu was beaten badly, and Nick Kwiatkoski was not a factor early. Which says that the Bears could also have been well served to have Danny Trevathan available as well. All moot, with Trevathan working back from a pre-camp hamstring issue, and Smith and the Bears in negotiations best described at this point as stagnant.
But as the Smith non-contract drama lurches along, dire predictions and assessments of the holdout are inevitable. They’re also meaningless and, in some instances, flat wrong.
The fact is that missing a significant portion of training camp and preseason projects to have little to no effect on what Smith, the No. 8 pick of the 2018 first round, will become in the course of what he and the Bears hope will be a long and distinguished career. Even in the course of his rookie season.
The “evidence” is two-fold.
On-time = success? No correlation.
One is that while being in camp and preseason games obviously provide the first-stage launch of a rookie season, it is of questionable correlation to success in that season.
Forget about the current popular case-study, San Diego defensive end Joey Bosa. Consider instead that most of the greatest players in recent Bears history didn’t hold out, and neither did they start their rookie seasons anyway. Cases will be made for their nominations to the Hall of Fame, where Brian Urlacher will be waiting, the same Brian Urlacher who didn’t start his rookie season until an injury turned Barry Minter into a Bears Wally Pipp.
Olin Kreutz – started one game in his ’98 rookie year.
Lance Briggs – didn’t start until Game 4, backed up Bryan Knight for three games.
Charles Tillman – best CB in Bears history couldn’t beat out Jerry Azumah til Week 4.
And so on… .
Holding-out = problems? Again, no correlation long-term
On the other hand, the failed Bears careers of Cedric Benson, Curtis Enis and Cade McNown are cited as how holdouts can derail careers.
The running back out of Texas was the last signee from the 2005 draft class, missing 36 days of camp and never reaching launch velocity his rookie season. He did average 4.1 yards per carry that year and the next, and had Lovie Smith holding the starter’s door open for him, although only so far.
The problem that dogged Benson ultimately was not his holdout, but his character and admittedly quirky personality. He clashed with Thomas Jones, a favorite in the locker room but who was understandably threatened by the selection of Benson at No. 4.
Benson had hamstring issues and a shoulder injury in the ’06 camp. But both the Bears and Bengals cut ties with him after repeated off-field incidents.
The non-career of Enis is wrongly cited as a casualty of his holdout. Not exactly.
The year before McNown, Enis had missed 26 days and two preseason games while his novice agent posed wildly bizarre contract scenarios for the Bears. Enis arrived in camp and was greeted with an impromptu bull-in-the-ring session to start his first practice, against notoriously tough linebacker Rico McDonald. Enis left the encounter with his head, but not his helmet.
Enis was not in football shape early, wasn’t available at certain key points in the early games of ’98, and earned the ire of coaches, particularly running backs coach Joe Brodsky, for disdaining blocking assignments, and Brodsky refused to play Enis until he was both in shape and with the program.
The light finally came on with Enis, and he was the workhorse back by midseason, breaking out for 76 yards on 18 carries and catching 2 passes in Game 9. He was then given his first NFL start the following week and piled up 85 yards on 21 carries before suffering a torn ACL that effectively derailed his career just as it was getting on track at more than 4 yards per carry.
Enis’ holdout delayed his development. It had nothing to do with why his career flamed out.
McNown was 11 days late getting to training camp owing to a difference of opinion over whether he should be paid in line with what the 12th pick of a draft should get (the Bears’ position) or that his position – quarterback – commanded a premium (the position of agent Tom Condon). McNown himself felt that he needed to hold firm to his position as a statement to the organization.
“I’m supposed to be the leader of the team,” McNown told this reporter at the time, “and what would they think of me if the first time things got tough, they knew I’d get pushed around.” So he stayed his course and the Bears came around to his thinking.
McNown set a couple of rookie passer records working within a unique one-series-per-game arrangement, then was installed as the starter in 2000. But he suffered a serious shoulder injury on a sideline hit in a Game 7 loss to Philadelphia at a point where his play was already spiraling down because of what teammates saw as a lack of commitment to learning the playbook.