BEARS: Questions mount as Bears depart for Hall of Fame Game
BOURBONNAIS — Tuesday was the final day of practice before the Bears depart for Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game against the Baltimore Ravens in Canton, Ohio.
But for coach Matt Nagy and his team, most of the attention was paid to off-field questions that remain unanswered.
First-round pick and inside linebacker Roquan Smith has continued his holdout due to language concerning the NFL’s new rule in regards to hitting with the helmet. The tie-up has been whether or not the Bears would have the right to void guaranteed money in Smith’s contract should he face league discipline for violating the new rule.
According to Nagy, who said he will be done publicly speaking on the matter, the holdout is still tied up.
“It is at a stalemate, but at the same time, I’m not going to get into any more of where it’s at publicly,” Nagy said. “I don’t think it’s fair to him, I don’t think it’s fair to his agent and I don’t think it’s fair to our organization.
“We’re going to keep it between us and I think that’s the best thing to do right now.”
Outside linebacker Sam Acho, the Bears’ player representative for the NFL Players Association, said that he is excited for Smith to sign his contract, whenever that may be.
“I’m excited for (Smith). I actually went through some of the contracts that the rookies have been getting,” Acho said. “The first-round picks are mostly guaranteed (money), so that’s exciting for me as a rep to see players getting guaranteed money.”
Smith is the only draft pick who remains unsigned, a fact that has become troubling as the preseason schedule begins. For defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, that means taking the trip to Canton with the players he has.
“Obviously, it’s not advantageous to anybody that he’s not here and I’ll leave it at that,” Fangio said. “We’d love to have him here the first day, but we’ll adapt and adjust and get him ready.”
While fans, and even members of the Bears coaching staff and front office, may begin to lose patience with Smith over his holdout, according to Acho, the locker room supports him.
“I’m going to let (Smith) use his time to do his thing and figure out what he needs to figure out, but he can take his time,” Acho said. “I’ve got his back and I think everybody on this team does.
“I can speak for everybody on the team when I say that.”
The NFL’s new rule that has given Smith and his camp pause for concern is an issue that all teams will have to adjust to this season. With the Bears kicking off the 2018 preseason slate, they figure to be a bit of a guinea pig to see how the new rule is initially officiated.
“We’ve been coaching it, I’ve been talking about it a lot in meetings,” Fangio said. “We’re trying hard, but until (the players) get put in live action, I don’t think we’ll know the answer to that.
“Traditionally, with these kinds of rules, you’ll see more flags in the preseason, but I think it’s going to be a hard rule to officiate.”
Fangio is one of the longest-tenured coordinators in the league, with 32 years of NFL experience. The new helmet rule reminded him of another more recent rule change concerning contact within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
“If coaches from the (19)60′s rose from the dead today, they’d want to go back to their grave with (the illegal contact) rule,” Fangio said. “We’ve adjusted (to the illegal contact rule), so I think we’ll adjust (to the helmet rule).”
Facing the flag
The Bears and Ravens won’t only be guinea pigs in regards to the league’s new helmet rule.
Less than two months after announcing a new rule requiring teams and players to either stand for the National Anthem or stay in the locker room while it’s played, the league suspended the rule due to legal threats from the NFLPA.
With all eyes on the Bears and their response on Thursday, Nagy said that whatever the team does, they will do together.
“Just like all this other stuff, we have a plan. We’re in the middle of that right now and we’ll get into that in the next day,” Nagy said. “I feel really good with where we’re at and I’m real comfortable.”
After an honest and lengthy monologue about society’s issues in general, as well as issues that plague Chicago, Acho explained him and his teammates’ perspectives on the national anthem issue.
“We come from so many different backgrounds and so many different experiences, so it’s going to be hard to figure out one solution that fits everyone,” Acho said. “But I think the beauty of it is when you come together and put your own selfish desires behind you, I think that’s when real growth and real change happens.”