Should Steelers be intrigued by LB Roquan Smith trade request?

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith has requested a trade. Should the Pittsburgh Steelers be on the phone with Chicago’s front office? 

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers were inarguably one of the biggest positional weaknesses on their roster during the 2021 season. With Devin Bush one year removed from the torn ACL he suffered in 2020 and after trading for former Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Schobert during the preseason, many thought this group would be much improved. It was not.

Play after play, a lackluster combination of Bush and Schobert were man-handled in the running game and lost in pass coverage. Despite their investments into this pairing, Robert Spillane still made his way onto the field for 37 percent of defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference, as they looked for ways to get a spark from their linebackers.

There’s no doubt that this unit could still use an upgrade, and many are wishing that this would come in the form of Bears linebacker, Roquan Smith.

On Tuesday morning, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Smith had requested a trade from the Chicago Bears after feeling taken advantage of in contract negotiations. Smith, a former first-round pick in 2018, has been a quality linebacker for Chicago who has earned Second-Team All-Pro honors.

While he is coming off a bit of a down year himself, there’s no question that Roquan would be a significant upgrade over Devin Bush, and paring him alongside Myles Jack could give this defense a sizable boost. But would the Steelers be willing to execute a trade like this?

Steelers seem unlikely to pursue Roquan Smith

For a team that already has the most financial investments on the defensive side of the football, it would be hard to justify throwing both draft capital and money at a position that they’ve already invested so heavily into.

In 2019, the Steelers spent a first and second-round draft choice to move up to the 10th overall pick to secure Devin Bush. So far, this has proven to be a colossal mistake. In his first three seasons, Bush has shown the occasional flash but has been completely unspectacular so far.

Meanwhile, Chicago is hoping for a first-round pick in exchange for Roquan’s services. I’d be shocked if they got this, but a second-rounder certainly isn’t out of the question.

Not only would the Steelers have to give up significant draft capital for Smith, but they would also have to turn around and give him a lofty contract extension. Smith is set to have a $9.375 million cap hit in 2022, and the team would not be able to absorb this without a pre-worked extension or a restructuring of T.J. Watt’s deal.

In order to even think about getting something like this done, the Steelers would have to push money back into the future and make it so Roquan Smith is a player they would have to cut 2-3 years from now.

Smith’s new money average isn’t likely to top premier players like Shaquille Leonard and Fred Warner — who are each making over $19 million per season, according to Over the Cap — but he could prove to be in the next tier down in the $15-17 million range with players like C.J. Mosley and Foyesade Oluokun.

I have no doubt that the Steelers would love to add a quality young linebacker like Roquan Smith who could be another core piece to restoring this defense, but between draft capital and financial investments, the cost would be too great. Don’t expect them to be calling Chicago’s front office anytime soon.