Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023, and it’s widely expected the team will re-sign him to a hefty extension.
The team’s 8th overall selection in the 2018 draft, Smith has grown into one of the best young linebackers in the league. He was sixth in the league in solo tackles last season (95) and he’s the only player in the NFL to amass over 500 tackles and more than 40 tackles-for-loss since 2018, per NFL stats.
Smith, who is also great in coverage (he allowed opposing quarterbacks an 87.5 passer rating when throwing his way last year), has been continuously snubbed for Pro Bowl recognition, but he has been named a second-team All-Pro twice.
Considering his importance to the team coupled with his recent production, one analyst thinks Smith is going to get a mega-contract extension in 2023.
ALL the latest Bears news straight to your inbox! Subscribe to the Heavy on Bears newsletter here!
Smith Predicted to ‘Reset’ LB Market
In his April 13 column, Alex Kay of Bleacher Report predicted the “next round of blockbuster signings” in 2023, and he thinks Smith is going to “reset” the market for linebackers.
“Roquan Smith is one of the better linebackers in the NFL and will finally get paid as such on his next contract,” Kay wrote. “Despite his steady production, Smith has been snubbed for the Pro Bowl every year. He finally earned some recognition with second-team All-Pro nods in each of the last two seasons and is in line to be further recognized with a massive contract next spring.”
The Bears will have the money to do it, too. Per Spotrac, Chicago will have over $122 million in available cap space next year — enough to make Smith the highest-paid backer in the NFL while still having plenty left over to pay multiple top-tier free agents.
Follow the Heavy on Bears Facebook page, where you can weigh in on all the latest Bears-related breaking news, rumors, content and more!
What Could Smith’s Deal Look Like?
Kay thinks the lack of free agent LBs on the market in 2023 could be enough to bump Smith’s deal up a bit.
“A franchise looking to shore up the middle of its defense with a sturdy young linebacker won’t find many suitable options outside of Smith next year, meaning he could surpass Darius Leonard as the highest-paid off-ball linebacker,” Kay surmised.
The San Francisco 49ers signed LB Fred Warner to a five-year deal worth $95 million before the Indianapolis Colts gave Leonard a five-year deal worth $99.2 million with $52.5 million guaranteed. Could Smith get more than that?
Spotrac has the 25-year-old linebacker’s market value listed at $17.6 million per season — which feels a little low.
Smith will be playing under the fifth-year option this coming season if he’s not extended this offseason, so he’ll be making $9.735 million guaranteed in 2022, which is what his cap hit will be, as well.
With Leonard topping all LBs with a $19.7 million annual salary, the Bears could be waiting to see how next season turns out for the young linebacker before doling out that kind of money. But don’t be surprised if Smith gets around $20 million per season if he stays healthy. Tone-setting linebackers like him are a rarity, and they can really make all the difference on defense. It’ll be fascinating to see how Chicago handles his contract moving forward.