08-30-2001-UNKNOWN

8-30-01, 6:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After failing to strike a deal for Justin Smith despite raising his signing bonus to more than LaDainian Tomlinson's bonus, the Bengals are uncertain they can get a deal for their first-round draft choice.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn also indicated the offer might decrease if the holdout continues to the Sept. 9 start of the regular season.

"As it sits right now, it doesn't look like something that can get done," said

Blackburn after each side rejected the other's ideas Thursday.

"Once the regular season starts, you have to look at things differently and, honestly, I never thought he wouldn't be here for the regular season. It's something that we have to look at."

Jim Steiner, Smith's agent, is looking for a slot deal in his client's No. 4 spot in both money and structure. The Bengals say their bonus offer is now more than Tomlinson's $10.5 million.

But the Bengals are apparently standing firm on their reluctance to give Smith the one-time triggers that Tomlinson has at No. 5 and Warren has at No. 3, which escalate the last three years of salaries into the $5-8 million per year range.

The Bengals have said they want to tie the escalators to more than play time and to more than one trigger for a deal that can max out at $40 million, which is more than Tomlinson's $38 million and less than Warren's $44 million.

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BARNDT CHARGED: **Defensive tackle Tom Barndt, battling for a roster spot on the Bengals' defensive line, has told the club he's embarrassed about being charged with a DUI this past Monday.

In a letter to Eric Ball, the Bengals' director of player development, Barndt attorney Phil Taliaferro said his client had an accident with another car in Covington, Ky. Taliaferro noted the Aug. 26 police report said the other car caused the accident by failing "to yield the right of way," but admitted Barndt had been drinking.

"He is very embarrassed and feels horrible that he let his team down," Taliaferro wrote to Ball. "You are also well aware of how much he

loves the Bengals and I am confident that this kind of behavior will not happen again because he has learned his lesson. This is the first time that he has been involved with alcohol while driving."

But Barndt still faces a suspension and/or fine from the NFL under the league's alcohol policy. He'll also be put in a rehab program.

Barndt, 29, is looking to hook on with the Bengals after playing last year with mostly one arm in the wake of signing a five-year $11 million deal. Surgery rebuilt his shoulder and he has played better. But it's still not clear if he's played well enough to win a roster spot at the team's most competitive position.

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