Trading Roquan Smith is GM Ryan Poles’ Mitch Trubisky moment

Trading Roquan Smith is GM Ryan Poles’ Mitch Trubisky moment

No one is safe.

That has to be the message to the Bears locker room after general manager Ryan Poles dealt linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens on Monday — a day before Tuesday’s trade deadline — for second- and fifth-round picks in 2023 and veteran linebacker AJ Klein.

Smith was in the final year of his contract, but the Bears could keep him in the franchise for the next two years for about $38 million. He’s 25 years old and entering his prime – the exact type of player a team should want to build around.

Instead, Poles made his most surprising – and polarizing – move as GM.

When the Poles traded forward Khalil Mack, Mack was 31 years old and coming off a seven-game season. When he moved defensive end Robert Quinn last week, he was replacing a 32-year-old who had had one shift all season.

This is different. This is his moment with Mitch Trubisky.

When his predecessor Ryan Pace traded for second-round pick Trubisky in 2017, he knew he would forever be associated with his decision. The Poles will be, too, especially if Smith — who started the season as a “holdover” and publicly accused the Poles of negotiating in bad faith — continues his streak as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL while playing for one of the league’s best-run franchises . The trade could destabilize a Bears team already struggling emotionally with the loss of Quinn.

Which players on the Bears are now untouchable? Quarterback Justin Fields, probably. But the Smith trade could even color how Poles view Fields at season’s end. If this season is to show the Poles whether Fields can — or can’t — be the Bears’ franchise quarterback, he’s just stating that he’s not blindly married to any of the players he inherited from Pace.

Not that there are many left. Take away Smith, and only 10 of the Bears’ 22 starts Sunday against the Cowboys were on the roster when the Poles were hired in January. Only two defensive starters remain from 2020: cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety Eddie Jackson.

The Bears are expected to have $116 million in salary cap space next season, plus at least three additional draft picks acquired in the trade last week. If the Poles commit those resources to the type of player a modern offense needs — multiple receivers and at least one offense — Fields will be better for it. That is, if the Bears decide it’s worth building around. Hitting Fields with a mid-season bomb gives him one more thing to try to overcome.

Monday’s deal certainly got the attention of Jackson, who succeeded Quinn as defensive captain Sunday amid a rebuilding season, and running back David Montgomery. If the Poles can trade Smith, he can certainly trade them – and there should be a market for both.

As much as the Bears praised Montgomery, he was increasingly on the wrong side of the water with second-year running back Khalil Herbert. Herbert averaged 6.2 yards per carry Sunday and Montgomery averaged 3.5. Allowing Montgomery to leave in free agency in March would, in ordinary years, yield a compensatory draft pick. The Bears, however, think they will spend enough on new players to make it moot.

The Bears don’t have an intriguing backup for Jackson, but they don’t have one for Smith either. Undrafted free agent Jack Sanborn could get his first crack at the starting job.

When he dealt Quinn to the Eagles on Wednesday, Poles said he was confident that certain defensive backs “will continue to stick and be leaders.” He named four players: defensive lineman Justin Jones, Johnson, Jackson and Smith.

One of them has since been traded. And maybe others.

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