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After agreeing to a deal that would make him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the league, San Francisco 49ers star Fred Warner became the first domino to fall ahead a series of contracts set to follow for the 2018 rookie class of prime defensive talent.
Included in that group is Chicago Bears LB Roquan Smith, who is expected to receive a heftier offer on his extension now that Warner has set the market with his new deal, still pending a contract for Pro Bowl Colts linebacker Darius Leonard.
Smith’s stats from a 2020 campaign that was bad news for the Bears are still impressive. He had 98 solo tackles and four sacks, which means the 24-year-old linebacker has the potential to lead a dejected team that finished .500 to rebound in 2021. With only the Packers ahead of the Bears in the NFC North’s hierarchy — as they deal with their own contract issues between Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams — investing in the young Smith will require GM Ryan Pace to back up the Brinks truck, but Pace should be confident in the ROI from Roquan. Smith has been dependable on the field, missing only four games since being drafting in 2018.
Stepping in as the new defensive coordinator after years of learning under mentor and head coach Vic Fangio, DC Sean Desai is focused on getting the Bears back to an elite level of play, reminiscent of their 2018 season.
“This is going to Sean Desai’s defense. The 2018 defense was the best defense in 2018, and our goal is going to be the best defense in 2021,” stated the new DC, in an interview with Bears reporter Adam Hoge. “I think that’s what our players are going to embrace and understand.”
Former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano gave his thoughts on the standard set by Smith’s brutish tackling and swagger on the field for the rest of the Bears defense:
“This is just now just an ascending player who is going to do nothing but get better and grow mentally. He’s going to keep sharpening his sword every single day he walks in this building. With the level of play comes confidence and that’s at a high level right now. His confidence is off the charts. I just think you’re going to see a guy continue to progress and play really, really well.”
Without much of an identity to offer on offense as they integrate rookie quarterback Justin Fields and with Allen Robinson’s contract extension still in limbo, the Chicago Bears defense is setting themselves up to take the reins as the lead unit on this team, thanks to a stacked roster of defensive talent.
Keeping Roquan in an arsenal that already includes Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Robert Quinn and a healthy Akiem Nicks will keep the Bears in position to rise out of the NFC North, and perhaps achieve even higher pursuits, should Fields pan out as their play caller at the line of scrimmage.