Linebacker Roquan Smith is arguably the Chicago Bears' best player, and the team is reportedly making his long-term future a priority as he enters the final year of his contract.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reported contract talks are expected to "heat up some time this summer" between the team and Smith with other Bears players who are approaching free agency under the impression the linebacker is "the priority" for new general manager Ryan Poles.
That Smith would be a focus for a new front office trying to build a consistent winner comes as no surprise.
After all, he is just 25 years old and earned back-to-back second-team All-Pro nods. The No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft posted 163 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, three passes defended and an interception he returned for a touchdown during the 2022 campaign.
Smith has also been durable and appeared in at least 12 games in each of his four seasons in the league. The only year he missed any time was when he played 12 games in 2019.
He seems to be well on his way to becoming the next great Bears linebacker in a long history that includes Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Dick Butkus, among others.
The Georgia product has also been a steady force and bright spot for a franchise that has trended in the wrong direction since it went 12-4 in his rookie season. That was the last time the Bears finished above .500, and they are coming off a 6-11 effort in 2021.
There are some young building blocks in place for Poles, including second-year quarterback Justin Fields, but Smith is already a proven commodity who figures to remain in his prime for the foreseeable future.
He is exactly the type of player the new front office can build around, and it seems it is doing what it can to keep the star linebacker around as Chicago attempts to compete in the NFC North.