The Bears traded two central players and team captains – linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive end Robert Quinn — in the past week, leaving some holes in the locker room halfway through the season.
By acquiring 2023 second- and fifth-round picks from the Ravens and a 2023 fourth-round pick from the Eagles, the Bears have more assets to build for the future. But that doesn't change the team's goals for this season. Quarterback Justin Fields remains confident each person in Halas Hall is eager to keep competing for wins.
"Nobody has that mindset on our team," Fields said. "Everybody on the team, including the coaches, we want to win games. We want to win every game. So nobody's waving the white flag. We're all attacking each day trying to be better, trying to improve each and every day. Guys on the defensive side of the ball, they're going to have to step up. Leadership's gonna have to step up over there.
"We all talked about it. We all kinda went through it, texted Roquan and just told him 'thank you' for being the teammate he was to me, being the brother he was to me and everybody else. Of course, that was a big loss for us. But we have the leaders on this team and the players on this team to step up."
Coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles sat down with Smith first following the trade, thanking him for all he's done for the organization. Shortly after, the pair met with the leadership council to discuss why the trade happened and "make sure they were squared away with it."
"Just transparency," Eberflus said. "I think that's important. You just communicate. Look each other in the eye and tell the truth and communicate, and I think that's what we do with all the guys and I think they appreciate that. It's right there on the table, set it up there and talk about it and visit."
Fields, who is on the leadership council, said transparency is "all you can ask from those two," as communication is "the biggest part of it."
While Smith and Quinn were two of the team's top leaders, Eberflus hasn't seen the trades mess with the vibe in the locker room. However, he hasn't shied away from acknowledging the personnel changes and how they can affect the rest of the team.
"You have to address it," Eberflus said. "I addressed it with the leadership council. I addressed it with the team today. You have to all be on the same page. You can't just pretend nothing happened. You can't just do that. It's got to be communicated. You've got to talk about it. You've got to look each other in the eye. You've got to tell each other the truth and put a vision in front of them with where we are going and why we are doing that."
As the NFL's current leading tackler, Smith's production won't be a simple replacement. The linebacker totaled 83 tackles, including 44 solo tackles, four tackles-for-loss, three pass breakups, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions in the first eight games of the season.
Eberflus understands no single player will automatically fill that hole. However, he is confident in the rest of the linebacker group to step up as Joe Thomas, Jack Sanborn and A.J. Klein – who the Bears acquired from the Ravens – will all compete for the starting role in practice this week.
"Obviously you have a Pro Bowl player that has been leading the NFL in tackles, I'm not sure that you do replicate that," Eberflus said. "But you shift guys around, move guys around and put guys in place and next man up, he plays and it's gonna be good for that linebacker room getting experience, getting some playing time."