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Number Crunch: Projecting a Roquan Smith Contract

With the Roquan Smith drama in full force, it is time for us to take a look at the numbers and see what some realistic terms might look.
Roquan Smith Contract Chicago Bears

Photo: Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

Roquan Smith contract drama is currently the talk of the town. The drama started small and hopeful. Then the Chicago Bears placed Smith on the PUP list while the sides negotiated. Now, Smith has gone public with a trade request after the Bears' most recent offer. Who am I to tell you which side is in the wrong? I am just a numbers nerd. And that is what I am here to do, run the numbers.

Setting a Benchmark for the Roquan Smith Contract

To kick this thing off, we need to determine where Roquan stands among his peers. To do this, I compared his statistical production against other off-ball linebackers who played 900-plus snaps in 2021. I compared every year of Smith's career against the group.

Roquan Smith Linebacker Stats

2021 linebacker stats to find comps for a Roquan Smith contract

The players listed above are sorted in order of their composite rankings. Each ranking was weighted by usage (i.e. pass rush vs. coverage vs. run defense). According to the statistics, Roquan Smith in 2020 and 2021 with the Bears had the best stats of any linebacker in the group. He was only below average in two categories in 2021:

  • Pressure rate as a pass rusher
  • Completion percentage allowed in coverage

In pressure rate, Roquan was at or above average in two of his four NFL seasons. And as I investigate the completion percentage allowed, I see that he was at or better than average every other year of his career. Therefore, I do not think we have any red flags here.

It is clear to me, based on the stats, that Roquan deserves to be paid like a top-three linebacker in the league. However, there are folks out there with differing opinions. Primarily because many teams just do not believe in paying off-ball linebackers franchise player-type money. That makes the situation a little bit murkier, as the potential market for Smith comes into question

“He’s not a top-five linebacker for me. Not right now anyway… My top-five stack linebackers? Shaq Leonard, Fred Warner, Demario Davis, Micah Parsons and I still love Lavonte David. I thought De’Vondre Campbell was better than Roquan last year. He made more plays.”

- NFL Executive discussing Roquan Smith to the Chicago Tribue’s Brad Biggs

For now, we are just going to assume that the market is there and plentiful. And based on Roquan’s stats over the years, his contract should be near the top of his position group.

Finding the Top Paid Linebackers in the NFL

Next, we are going to look at the contracts of the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL. I have accumulated the top 11 contracts for linebackers, limiting it to contracts that span more than three seasons.

Linebacker Contracts

Reviewing the top paid linebackers in the NFL

Here, we want to zero in on the five highest-paid linebackers:

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  • Shaquille (formerly known as Darius) Leonard
  • Fred Warner
  • C.J. Mosley
  • Foyesade Oluokun
  • Deion Jones

These five individuals are who will set the market price for the Roquan Smith contract. I especially want to point out the difference between five-year contracts and shorter-term deals. The longer contracts tend to have a lower portion of the dollars guaranteed and pay out less money early as a percentage of the full value (FV). Those items are important to keep in mind here.

Reviewing this data, we can see that a deal will likely be approaching $100 million over a five-year term. Although, full guarantees (not to be confused with conditional guarantees) are likely to be below $40 million. The C.J. Mosely contract is very interesting here as well because it was well above norms for the position and has come back to bite the Jets. I would expect a Roquan deal to be closer to Shaquille Leonard and Fred Warner than C.J. Mosely.

Using Stats to Find Roquan Smith’s AAV

Another way we can find some rough estimates is by comparing linebacker stats to their AAV to find their “Dollars per” stats.

Linebacker Dollars per Stat

Comparing average annual contracts to stats to find a reasonable value for Roquan Smith

Here, I have accumulated the snap counts, solo tackles, total tackles, stops made, and impact play counts for each of the top five paid linebackers in 2021. This gets us to the average amount paid per stat to the top paid linebackers in the NFL. Next, I used these average figures against Roquan Smith's average stats from 2020-2021 to find a reasonable annual average value (AAV)

We end up with an AAV in the $19.5 million range, which fits the comps. Now that we have cross-checked that, it is time to start drafting some potential terms for Roquan Smith's contract.

Projecting Roquan Smith’s Contract

Here, I have gathered the details on the average contract terms for the five highest-paid linebackers, where I expect Roquan’s contract range to be for each category and a theoretical “upper limit” for negotiations. This is all just my best guess, but I think it is most fair and reasonable.

Roquan Smith Contract

Setting a range for Roquan Smith's contract terms

Using these figures, in addition to Over The Cap’s contract constructor, I have found some terms that fall in the middle of expectations and upper limit. This contract would pay out a total of $97.5 million over five years, making Roquan the second-highest paid linebacker in the NFL based on AAV and Full Value. However, it would give him the most guaranteed dollars and the highest pay over the first, second, and third years of the contract at the position.

Given the Chicago Bears' glut of cap space in 2022 and 2023, and pairing that with the underwhelming 2023 free-agent class, I am not hesitant to load up the front end of this contract. The Bears will be able to escape this deal by 2026 and could even get out of it in 2025 if needed. Meanwhile, Roquan would receive plenty of financial security through the first few years of the agreement.

Roquan Smith Contract

A (very) amateur example of contract terms for Roquan Smith

Let me know what you think about this potential Roquan Smith contract. I highly encourage everyone to play around with the OTC contract constructor and send us what you think a reasonable deal would look like!