The Thing Is

Ah, it’s that time again.

With the 2018 season a few weeks away, and preseason games already upon us, what would the apex of Summer be without some Chicago Bears drama?  What’s “The Thing” this year?  And I’m not talking about the hand running around the Addams Family’s living room.

In previous seasons we’ve had Things:  Ryan Pace awkwardly explaining Kevin White’s season ending in August, Kyle Fuller and Pernell McPhee in and out of PUP lists, Leonard Floyd spurting watery diarrhea, Hroniss Grasu’s knee exploding in front of small children, Eric Kush’s hamstring ripping neatly away from the bone, and a stifled Chicago media speculating how Dowell Loggains is somehow equal to or greater than Adam Gase.

This year is no different, and while there are the familiar honey-dripping happy feelings associated with a new coach and fresh faces, one face that has gone unseen at camp is Bears first round pick Roquan Smith.

As of this writing, Smith is the only remaining 2018 1st round draft pick to be unsigned.  While initial fan speculation was incorrectly vibing toward “greedy unproven rookie,” a lot of gentle reminders had to be issued for those of us still thinking that rookies get Sam Bradford’s $86 million contracts before ever playing a snap.

In today’s NFL, the Rookie Wage Scale ends all of that in one fell swoop, and rookies are paid based on draft placement and the 2018 salary cap.  You can read all about the wage scale at this Forbes link.  I apologize preemptively for linking you to Forbes.

The issue regarding negotiation is then moved into a new annoying subcategory:  Offset Language.  The primary rumored culprit of all this Roquan drama is wording regarding the new amorphous “Use of Helmet” rule, explained here via the Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley:

The use-of-helmet rule allows officials, with the aid of replay, to eject a player who, with an unobstructed path and other available options, decides to initiate contact with his helmet.

The violation could turn out to be a rare event — NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent has said that only three of 40,000 plays last year would’ve resulted in ejections — but no one, from agents to teams, is quite sure how it will change the game. More ejections could lead to more suspensions — and loss of pay from his contract guarantee.Chicago Sun-Times

So essentially Roquan Smith is playing a perilous, violent position, and doesn’t want to risk losing moneys if he’s ejected and/or subsequently suspended.  The Bears are, like most NFL franchises, frightened of any contract wording that says the words “Guaranteed Money.”  The Bears are going to pay what Smith is owed, and there’s no getting out of that, but the fickle bits of fine print are keeping him from seeing the field.

The Bears are also likely a tad intimidated by Smith’s representation:  Creative Artists Agency (CAA), who are a burgeoning monopoly in the field, owning nearly every A-list talent in Hollywood, professional sports, music, and they’ve even got former Vice President Joe Biden as part of their sparkling client list.

CAA was behind the scenes during Joey Bosa’s nasty contract dispute with the Los Angeles Chargers  (still not used to typing that), where the organization was very aggressive in leveraging public opinion against Bosa, all to nickel-and-dime him over his signing bonus.

Joey Bosa got his money, and the Chargers looked like morons.

Their war of words damaged the relationship with Bosa, and ultimately the franchise ended up looking quite foolish and petty, getting their rookie in a uniform a mere two-ish weeks before their season opener.

The Bears aren’t the Chargers, and for all intents and purposes their reputation with signing rookies has been historically good.  Cliff Stein, perhaps the only contract negotiator in Chicago known to fans by name, was given an advisory position within the organization after Ryan Pace brought in a friendly face in Joey Laine to handle Stein’s former duties.

Stein was well-known and highly regarded for many years as a shrewd and expedient negotiator under then-GM Jerry Angelo, in particular when it came to rookie classes.  The Bears were often heralded for signing entire rookie classes well before many other franchises, but those days appear to be done.

Should it bother you, Bears fans?

Yes and no.

Yes because he’s losing out on invaluable reps and experience that you can’t really get back.

No because this isn’t an act of a greedy player, just an unusual annoyance over crossed T’s and dotted I’s.

Breathe.  This isn’t Cedric Benson crying on draft day only to hold out for more money.  This isn’t Eli Manning awkwardly holding up a Chargers jersey hours after saying he’d never play a snap in San Diego.  This isn’t Sam Bradford counting his tens of millions before ever playing a down in the NFL.

This is just a kid letting his agency try to get what he feels he deserves, as no NFL career is ever guaranteed to last, and an organization that is looking to do what good organizations generally do:  Wisely invest in the fine print.

Right now there’s no losers.  The team started practice a week earlier than everyone else but Baltimore, but practice reps and team comradery are at stake nonetheless.

Let’s just hope that within a few days from this writing, we can all forget that this was even a Thing.

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