Smith’s holdout is the second-longest for a rookie under the current CBA (collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and players’ union) behind Joey Bosa’s 31 days in 2016, when the pass rusher and the San Diego Chargers didn’t reach an agreement until late August.
Rookie holdouts have become an uncommon occurrence since the current CBA was implemented in 2011, which created a wage scale for draft picks. That leaves little room for negotiation as each player now receives a four-year deal with a fifth-year option, while earning a salary that is allocated for the pick they are selected.
The only dispute in rookie contract negotiations under the current CBA is offset language, which essentially protects a team in the event a player joins another team if they are released before the end of the deal.
Smith’s case, however, is extremely unorthodox. The Bears are trying to insert language into his contract, but it’s centred on him losing guaranteed money if he’s subjected to fines or suspensions for on-field actions, specifically because of the new helmet-to-helmet contract rule, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As a linebacker, Smith will be involved in countless collisions on the field, so it’s likely he’ll brush up against the rule at some point, which can disqualify a player if he lowers his head to initiate contact and makes contact with his helmet. If he were to be ejected from a game or suspended, that would rob the Bears of an impact playmaker on the defensive side of the ball.
But by playing hardball with Smith regarding a rule that has yet to even be enforced, Chicago are proving to be sticklers.
The Philadelphia Eagles were left confused by a recent meeting with NFL officials in which they went over the new rule, so it’s entirely possible every defender in the league will require an adjustment period to eliminate illegal hits.
The other part of this from the Bears perspective is that it could have the unintended consequence of neutering Smith’s aggressiveness and physicality. With the potential of losing money on the back of his mind, he may not engage ball-carriers with the same verve.
The dispute between Chicago and Smith is minor enough to be resolved before the regular season, but for a team aiming to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010, it’s not the shrewdest handling of a key player.
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