Roger Goodell to Blame in Roquan Smith Holdout

Chicago Bears (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Don’t blame Roquan Smith for his holdout and don’t blame the Chicago Bears. Blame Roger Goodell.

When Chicago Bears opened training camp and Roquan Smith hadn’t signed his deal yet, nobody considered it a big deal. Rookie contracts are slotted and there is some offset language that needs to be settled, but for the most part, first round picks are like dominos and with so little room to negotiate, contracts are usually quickly signed.

But as the Smith holdout rolled into week two, fans and analysts started scratching their heads and people wanted to know what exactly was causing the delay. Well, details are starting to emerge about what the issue is.

Basically, if a first round pick is suspended during the duration of their rookie deal, teams can void the fourth year of the contract and get out of some guaranteed money owed to the player. This has always been reserved for PED and conduct violations. But the NFL made certain helmet hits suspendable and by default, that’s leaves players on their rookie deals open to have their final year of their contract terminated if they are suspended for an illegal hit during the first three years of the player’s career.

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Smith and his camp don’t feel it’s reasonable that if Smith struggles at the NFL level due to his size or injuries, that the Bears can use a helmet suspension in year two to get out of the fourth year of the contract. The Bears have told Smith’s agent that they wouldn’t do that and would be reasonable but Smith wants it in writing and to this point, the Bears have refused. Smith’s stance is perfectly fair.

From the Bears perspective, caving on this issue is a slippery slope. If the Bears give in to Smith’s demands, it can lead to the Bears agreeing to pay fines or pay players during suspensions due to helmet violations. It could lead to the Bears agreeing to language where they can’t void a rookie deal due to a PED or conduct violation. This is a precedent the Bears don’t want to set, and they are also 100% right in that regard.

So if both parties are in the right, who is in the wrong? That answer is simple: Roger Goodell and the NFL.

Here’s the bottom line: The NFL wants the league to be safer, which we can all agree is the right thing to do. So they put forth a new policy regarding helmet hits that can lead to suspensions, which while it is a questionable rule, the intentions behind the rule are good. But the NFL failed again with this new rule and here’s why.

As is the case frequently, the NFL didn’t think through all the ramifications of a rule and what other issues could arise because of it. Not only that, their policies and punishments don’t line up. Tom Brady may have instructed an equipment manager to take some air out of some footballs and was punished st the same level as a PED violator. Jameis Winston, a repeat offender, groped a female Uber driver and received less games than Tom Brady. Now with this rule, a helmet rule violation carries the same weight against the guarantees of a rookie deal as domestic violence. The NFL’s policies and rules are poorly worded and executed. It’s problematic for all parties and now it’s trickled down to rookie contract negotiations which should be simple to execute after the latest CBA.

Smith is officially in a lengthy holdout and it may not end soon. Don’t blame Roquan Smith. Don’t blame Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears. Blame Roger Goodell. This mess is on him.