Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus met with the media for the first time since his team traded star linebacker Roquan Smith to the Baltimore Ravens, and he revealed what went down the moment the Bears let the player they drafted eighth overall in 2018 go.
Eberflus said he and general manager Ryan Poles met with Smith shortly after the trade took place.
“With the Roquan trade, we met with Roquan right afterward,” the Bears coach said on November 2. “He came up to meet with Ryan and I, we discussed what was going on and obviously we wanted to have him abreast of what was happening and really do a great job of saying: ‘Hey, thank you for all you’ve done for us.’ And he was appreciative of his time here and then that was that. It was real short.”
Eberflus was asked why he didn’t go to bat more for Roquan and campaign for him to stay, and he was also asked why Smith wasn’t perceived to be as valuable in his defense as Shaquille Leonard was with the Indianapolis Colts. His responses to both questions were quite revealing.
Eberflus: ‘We Covet Ball Production in That Position’
When Eberflus was asked why he didn’t fight harder to keep Smith around, he skirted around the question.
“It was really the contract negotiations,” Eberflus replied. “Did we want him back? Sure. Yeah, we did. We made an offer to him. It was just a common ground thing that the Bears and Ryan and Roquan couldn’t come to. So the answer is we did want him back.”
It was his next comment that was most revealing. Eberflus was asked why Smith wasn’t valued in the coach’s system in the same way LB Shaq Leonard was in Indianapolis. Eberflus served as defensive coordinator for the Colts from 2018 until 2021 and was there when the team awarded Leonard with a five-year, $99.25 extension ($52.5 million guaranteed). Smith made it known he wants to be paid among league’s best inside linebackers, but the Bears didn’t want to shell out that kind of money for him.
“I would say that when you look at that, I would just say that we always base things on numbers and production and to us, we covet ball production in that position, so that right there is a very important thing that Will linebacker needs to do,” Eberflus said. “Again, we loved Roquan. We made him an offer and they couldn’t find common ground and that’s where it went.”
Eberflus essentially said Smith hasn’t been as good as Leonard when it comes to forcing turnovers, and he’s right.
Shaq Leonard Has Been Better Than Roquan Smith Since 2018
Both Smith and Leonard entered the league in 2018, and Leonard was named Defensive Rookie of the Year that season.
A two-time first-team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler, Leonard hasn’t played much at all this year; He missed the first three games recovering from offseason back surgery, and he suffered a broken nose and a concussion when he returned Week 4, sidelining him further. Still, his numbers at the position have been impressive.
In 16 games in 2021, Leonard led all inside linebackers with four interceptions and seven forced fumbles (stats via PFF). He also had five QB hits, seven hurries and four pass breakups last year. Since his rookie season, Leonard has amassed 12 interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 15 sacks.
In 17 games in 2021, Smith had an interception, four QB hits, three pass breakups, 3.0 sacks and a defensive score. Since entering the NFL in 2018, he has seven interceptions, a forced fumble, one fumble recovery and 16.5 sacks.
Eberflus didn’t speak ill of Smith, and it’s clear the Bears coach respects the 25-year-old LB. But when looking at which linebacker has been better and more consistent when it comes to creating turnovers, it’s really not close, and that’s why Smith is now playing in Baltimore.