The Bears and linebacker Roquan Smith remain at an impasse, and they shouldn’t be.
They shouldn’t be at an impasse because no team should use the power to void future guarantees as, essentially, a ticket to get out from under a contract they regret.
The concept arises from the notion that, if a player gets in the kind of trouble that makes the team want to get rid of him, the team shouldn’t owe him any more money. That’s a fair outcome. But it’s not fair to use something that wouldn’t trigger a termination as a “gotcha” moment that gives the team an open-ended license to dump the player later, if the team chooses to do so.
For Smith, the notion that he’d lose all guarantees if he’s suspended for an on-field infraction at a time when the rules regarding helmer use are at best in flux has nothing to do with protecting the coffers against a scoundrel who can’t keep his life in order and everything to do with seizing on a technicality in order to potentially screw Smith if he ends up being a bust. That’s why it makes sense for Smith and his agents to hold firm. And that’s why the Bears need to find a graceful way out of this one, if that’s even possible at this point.
Regardless, Smith is doing the right thing in refusing to give in, like Jets quarterback Sam Darnold did regarding language that would wipe out guarantees in the event of a fine. Even if it means skipping the season and re-entering the draft in 2019, Smith shouldn’t bow to a term that is fundamentally unfair. Although some teams want to come off as tough, it’s far better to be smart. And the smart thing to do in this case would be to come up with something that looks like a compromise but that ultimately is a capitulation on a point over which the two sides never should have been fighting in the first place.
Moving forward, the NFL and NFL Players Association should agree that guarantees will void only in situations where a team promptly terminates a player in the aftermath of the incident that wipes out the guarantee. Any other approach gives team’s an unwarranted get-out-of-jail-free card, that can be freely used in the event of a new coach, new G.M., new owner, or simply a new direction.