For a moment, put aside your thoughts on who’s to blame in the Roquan Smith contract impasse. Shelve your anger at the Bears for wanting to put conditions on Smith’s guaranteed money or at their first-round pick for missing so much of training camp because of words in a contract.
Instead, ponder the question that we in Chicago feel in our bones:
Doesn’t it figure that, of all the teams in the NFL, the ham-handed Bears are at the center of this mess?
Or, as I like to put it, how about putting energy into winning some football games?
The stalemate is over contract language. The Bears want to have the right to take Smith’s guaranteed money if the league disciplines him for bad behavior on the field, whether that’s throwing a cheap shot at an opponent or shoving an official. Or, possibly, if Smith turns out to be an underwhelming player and gets suspended for an on-field transgression, the Bears want to be able to release him without salary-cap consequences. His future pay, no longer guaranteed, wouldn’t count against the cap.
Now, you might consider a guarantee to be just that: guaranteed against being taken back. Not in the NFL.
Most contracts include a clause that puts a player’s guaranteed money at risk if he says anything to the media that might bring disrepute upon the team. I love the idea that the Bears — this bumbling, stumbling organization — are worried that words in the newspaper, and not Packers on a football field, will kill them.
According to the standard contract, a player’s guaranteed money can be voided if he “makes any public comment to the media that Club determines, in its sole discretion (1) breaches a material obligation of loyalty to Club and/or (2) materially undermines the public’s respect for or is criticizing of Club, Player’s teammates, Club’s ownership, Club coaches, Club management, any of Club’s operations or policies, or the NFL.”
This fits in perfectly with the Bears’ emphasis on public perception, on putting their best foot forward at all times. General manager Ryan Pace is ultra-concerned with the locker room culture, with players’ character, with the idea of everyone getting along. He is very proud of the “collaborative’’ decision-making inside Halas Hall.
Appearances are everything to the Bears.
Well, not Super Bowl appearances. Those don’t matter quite as much, judging by the two trips the franchise has made to the big game since the first Super Bowl in 1967.
And postseason appearances aren’t everything to the Bears, either. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010. In the past 25 years, they have made the playoffs five times.
But don’t say anything bad about the Bears if you’re a player! You might pay for it!
This from the franchise that signed troubled Ray McDonald and gave troubled Tank Johnson chance after chance.
Teams clearly should have some control over guaranteed money. If you give a running back a $5 million signing bonus, you should be able to get that money back if he kills someone in a bar, beats up his wife or has a meth lab in his basement.
It gets more problematic when it’s an on-field issue. If a player punches an opponent in the heat of battle and gets suspended by the NFL, why should a team have the right to void his guaranteed money, especially if the league already has taken away his weekly paychecks as punishment? And in a game that has violence at its core, isn’t occasional excessive violence almost built in to the equation?
A team should be able to take away a player’s guaranteed money if he fails a drug test. On the other hand, this is a league that almost demands its offensive linemen be 320 pounds, which is to say that this is a league that almost requires offensive linemen to find pharmaceutical help.
This is all about control. The Bears want more of it. They want to be able to recoup money. But drawing a line in the sand over Smith, who is widely considered to be a solid citizen, seems bizarre. The Bears obviously see the Smith impasse as a threat to future contracts. They don’t want to set a precedent by letting him get out of behavior clauses. His agents want to protect his money by taking that language out of the contract.
But the bottom line in all of this is that these are the Bears. They are coming off four straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and they’re fighting with the only unsigned first-round draft pick in the league. Of course they are.
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