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With Roquan Smith requesting a trade, would Buffalo Bills fans swap with Tremaine Edmunds?

A nice discussion-starter for your day

The 2018 NFL Draft offered a fantastic array of linebackers turning pro, and the Buffalo Bills were one of several teams to pounce on a prospect when they traded up for Tremaine Edmunds in the first round. Edmunds was the second linebacker to be drafted that year behind Georgia’s Roquan Smith, who headed to the Chicago Bears.

Now, four years into their career, both players seem to be hitting their own crossroads. Edmunds has yet to sign a contract extension with the Bills, who also spent a third-round pick on a rookie linebacker who’s currently slotted as his backup in the depth chart. And Smith, dissatisfied with Chicago’s negotiating tactics, announced his request for a trade on Tuesday morning.

Following this conversation to the obvious, reductionist, there’s-no-way-this-will-ever-happen conclusion, why don’t the two teams just swap players? Who says no?

Smith and Edmunds make up two of the top four linebackers from this class, with Darius Leonard and Fred Warner setting the pace for the group. Here’s a look at the stats for the two players, who appeared in the same number of games over the past four years (61):

Tremaine Edmunds

  • 293 solo tackles, 170 assisted tackles
  • 26 TFLs
  • 5.5 sacks
  • 15 QB hits
  • 2 forced fumbles
  • 4 interceptions
  • 2 Pro Bowl selections
  • 0 All-Pro selections

Roquan Smith

  • 348 solo tackles, 176 assisted tackles
  • 43 TFLs
  • 14 sacks
  • 17 QB hits
  • 1 forced fumble
  • 5 interceptions
  • 0 Pro Bowl selections
  • 2 Second-Team All-Pro selections

Thinking about Buffalo’s situation with Edmunds, every Bills fan understands it all too well. He’s definitely a net positive for the defense, with his length and sideline-to-sideline range. But he lacks the splash plays that define an elite $80-100 million linebacker, and after four years, too much of his appeal is still nestled up in “intangibles” like his unrealized potential or his ability to, basically, do the dirty work so other players can shine brighter than him. And it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Bills signed Matt Milano to a long-term extension, drafted Terrell Bernard on day two of this year’s draft, and slotted him right behind Edmunds on the roster.

In Smith’s case he’s pretty much been the main off-ball linebacker for his entire career in Chicago. They paired him with Danny Trevathan and Alec Ogletree in his four-year career and asked him to be the the playmaker between the tackles, with studs like Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson providing support. He’s the only linebacker the team even bothered to draft over the past five classes. As the Bears slowly bled support around him, Smith took on a greater and greater role on the team, reaching the point where he nearly tallied twice as many tackles (163) as the second-best tackler (87) on the 2021 Bears.

Let’s talk trade mechanics, now. One weird quirk is the salary. With both players on a fifth-year option, you might expect Smith, the top-ten pick, to have a higher salary. But actually it’s Edmunds making $12.7 million, while Smith makes $9.7 million.

Why is that?

Because of a weird quirk in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, where players are slotted to a higher salary tier if they make a Pro Bowl. Edmunds did this twice, and Smith never did. Even though he was selected to an All-Pro list, a higher honor (and Edmunds was not), he doesn’t get a salary boost from that achievement.

Both contracts are a one-year deal with a fully guaranteed salary, although Smith’s has offset language (and Edmunds does not), which would really only apply if he was cut. This means the two teams could trade the players without incurring any additional cap penalties.

So who says no?

The Bills could trade their middle linebacker for another one who saves them $3 million of cap space this year and has demonstrated way more of the “splash play” impact they hadn’t seen from Edmunds yet.

The Bears, apparently, don’t value Smith, and maybe they value another talented, productive linebacker with an extra four inches of height and 20 lbs of mass, who’s a year younger and might still reach a higher ceiling.

This is the part of the article where we acknowledge that this is the sort of one-for-one trade that never actually happens outside of a Madden video game. So instead, let’s offer the hypothetical to Bills fans: Would you trade Tremaine Edmunds for Roquan Smith, straight-up? Sound off in the comments!