Earlier this week two-time second-team All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith requested a trade from the Chicago Bears. Smith cited the organization’s inability to negotiate in good faith for his new contract as his reason for wanting out of Chicago. It does remain to be seen as to whether or not Bears GM Ryan Poles will honor his request and trade him, but at the moment Smith is not practicing. If the first year GM does entertain moving the former first round pick it is likely the majority of the league will inquire.
What does he bring to the table?
Since entering the league in 2018, Smith leads the league in solo tackles with 348 and is third in combined tackles with 524, only trailing Seahawks legend Bobby Wagner and three-time first-team All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard. Tackles are not the best barometer of a linebacker’s abilities as there are some inconsistencies in how they are tracked and awarded but nonetheless Smith is in elite company. Additionally, since the start of the 2020 season the former Georgia Bulldog is third in tackles for loss with 30. The only two players Smith trails are T.J. Watt and Aaron Donald, who are two of the best players in the league. In addition to his impact in the running game he also brings the ability to get after the quarterback; he has 14 career sacks with a career high of 5 in his rookie season.
The four-year pro is also a great coverage linebacker. Over the course of his career, he has 17 total passes defended as well as five interceptions. During the past three seasons he has allowed an opposing passer rating of 75.9, 59.6 and 76.8 on 203 total targets. For comparison's sake, in those three seasons Bobby Wagner’s passer rating against was 108.2, 88.9 and 97.9 on 240 targets. Smith does have a lower average depth of target against, but he still has a lower completion percentage against in all three seasons compared to Wagner.
Roquan Smith ranks 1st in Total Points among off-ball linebackers since 2020, and is tied for 1st in coverage Total Points over the same span. He’s only 25! The team just hired a defensive head coach! Wyd @ChicagoBears https://t.co/tRcUWAjf0c— Bryce Rossler (@btrossler) August 10, 2022
Smith is also a durable linebacker having played in all 33 regular season games over the past two seasons, whilst being on the field for 95% of the Bears defensive snaps in both of those seasons. He was recently taken off of the physically unable to perform list with an undisclosed injury meaning he should be ready for Week 1 of the NFL season. However, he is still not practicing as he is performing a “hold-in” due to his discontent with his contract situation.
What would it take?
This is where it gets tricky as off-ball linebackers are becoming less and less valuable in the NFL. Although, teams typically covet the best players at their respective positions no matter the positional value as seen with the Bears selecting Smith 8th overall in 2018. In recent memory we have not seen an off-ball linebacker of Smith’s caliber get traded. One of our closest comparisons is Jonathan Vilma, who was traded from the Jets to Saints in 2008 for a conditional fourth round pick. Due to the time that has passed since that trade it will almost certainly not be used as a comparison in negotiations. The price likely starts with a second-round pick and goes from there. I believe in order to get him the Seattle Seahawks would have to trade a 2023 2nd round pick (of which they have two), a 2024 third-round pick, and potentially one other lower-end asset. It is an expensive price to pay but when considering the impact Smith makes on a game-by-game basis it is more than palatable.
Should the Seahawks, do it?
Now to the $1 million question of should the Seahawks acquire the two time All Pro. There are certainly arguments for both sides. On one hand the Seahawks already have Jordyn Brooks who is one of the best young linebackers in the league. He will be due for a new contract soon as he enters his third season, so it is certainly not a position of need. On the other hand pairing Brooks and Smith would give the Seahawks likely the best linebacker tandem in the league for the next 10 years. With Clint Hurtt changing to a 3-4 defense, having two of the best inside linebackers in the NFL on the field at the same time would be a game changer for this defense.
As I highlighted in my Jordyn Brooks contract article, he is likely to command a contract with an AAV of $15-16 million. Smith would likely seek a similar figure with which would mean Seattle would be investing roughly $30-32 million a season in cap space to two off ball linebackers which is a difficult pill to swallow. There are some beliefs the NFL salary cap will be sitting around $230 million next season meaning it would likely be at somewhere around $248-252 million come 2024. If it was to be sitting at $250 million in 2024 a combined cap hit of $32 million for Brooks and Smith would eat up 12.8% of Seattle’s cap. Currently only one team in the NFL has allocated more than 8.79% of their cap to the inside linebackers, the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta’s number is a bit misleading as the team currently has six inside linebackers on their roster, one of whom is Deion Jones who’s carrying a cap hit of a little more than $20 million. With how the league views allocating assets to off-ball linebackers it is difficult to argue Seattle should invest so heavily in the off-ball linebacking position. However, the Seahawks will likely have a rookie quarterback coming in for 2023 who will carry a lower quarterback cap hit compared to the league average number until the 2027 or 2028 season. Teams are prototypically more aggressive with their salary cap allocation when they have a starting quarterback who is on their rookie deal which is an approach, I believe Seattle should take. So, the very long answer, yes Seattle should try to acquire Roquan Smith.
A defensive core of Smith, Brooks, Boye Mafe, Coby Bryant, Tariq Woolen and Darrell Taylor down the road would be a frightening task for any opposing offense.
Should the Seahawks trade for Roquan Smith?
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