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Bears Trade LB Roquan Smith to Ravens For Draft Picks, LB A.J. Klein

The Bears traded Roquan Smith, the NFL's leading tackler and one of the league's best linebackers, to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, as first reported by Fox's Jay Glazer. In return, the Bears receive 2023 second- and fifth-round picks, as well as linebacker A.J. Klein.

In August, Smith had expressed a desire to be traded from the Bears, then said he'd play out his contract, "bet on myself as I’ve always done," and hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the year. "Right now, my intentions are to sign Roquan to this team, and we're going to take it day by day. And at the end of the day, we have to do what's best for this organization," GM Ryan Poles said at the time of Smith's request, stating the Bears felt they had offered a very respectable and even record-setting deal. But now, it's the Bears who are moving on, leaving the Ravens with the decision to extend their new linebacker, if a long-term contract hasn't already been structured as a contingency to the trade.

“I think Smith is a good player that anyone would welcome," said analyst Joe Banner of The 33rd Team. "If the Ravens made this trade without negotiating a contract extension before finalizing the deal I think they made a mistake. Personally giving up a second-round pick and a huge contract is more than I would’ve given. I think the player is good but not great, and that pick plus a huge contract should get you greatness.”

Smith has been one of the Bears' top defenders since he was picked eighth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Georgia. In four and a half seasons, he had 607 tackles and seven interceptions, and was twice named as a second-team All-Pro. Smith has had at least 100 tackles every season of his career, and over 120 in every one not involving an injury. So far this season through eight weeks, he leads the NFL in tackles with 83. He also has 2.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions.

"As long as the Ravens sign Smith to a longterm deal, I love this trade for Baltimore," said T.J. McCreight, analyst for The 33rd Team. "He is a top-level player and will fit right into their culture with his toughness, intelligence, savvy, and effort. He will do a lot to progress the Ravens' defense for the stretch run. They have been looking for a Ray Lewis replacement, and they may have found him."

In a pre-draft interview in 2018, Phil Savage, then executive director of the Senior Bowl, said Smith was "a reincarnation of Ray Lewis." Savage was Baltimore's director of college scouting in 1996, when Lewis was taken 26th overall by the Ravens in the first round.

"Roquan elevated the play of those around him, and (Georgia) became a very salty defense and really helped carry them to the national championship," Savage said. "And Roquan Smith was in the middle of all that action."

When Smith requested a trade in early August, he announced his desire publicly in a statement released on Twitter:

"Unfortunately, the new front office regime doesn't value me here. They've refused to negotiate in good faith, every step of this journey has been 'take it or leave it.' The deal sent to me is one that would be bad for myself, and for the entire LB market if I signed it. I've been trying to get something done that's fair since April, but their focus has been on trying to take advantage of me."

Smith is playing in the final year of his rookie deal, and is in line for an extension that would make him one of the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL. The move will offer Smith an immediate chance at team success he didn't find in four years with the Bears. Chicago has not won a playoff game in his four seasons with the team, losing both its Wild Card appearances during that time. And with the Bears 3-5 through eight games and clear sellers at the trade deadline (they traded pass rusher Robert Quinn to the Eagles last week), a playoff appearance was unlikely this season for Smith.

The trade will help continue a rebuild for the Bears, who now own 10 picks in the 2023 draft. In addition to the two selections acquired on Monday, Chicago owns Philadelphia's fourth-round pick. Klein is a solid backup player and will contribute immediately on special teams.

Now in Baltimore, he finds a franchise that is a contender in the AFC and has room to sign him to such an extension: The Ravens have under $3 million in room this season, but nearly $50 million to work with next year. They are also 5-3 and currently lead the AFC North.

Smith immediately becomes one of the top defenders on the Ravens, joining a defense that includes such names as Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Calais Campbell. Linebacker has been one of the weak points of that defense, however. Patrick Queen, the team's 2020 first-round pick,  holds down one linebacker spot, but fellow starter Josh Bynes is 33 years old and has only 29 tackles, while Justin Houston wasn't brought back until July to fill the other spot.