Akili salutes impending Palmer deal

4-24-03, 8:20 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The negotiations that have reportedly yielded the Bengals a pre-draft deal with USC quarterback Carson Palmer may have had the David Carr deal as the blueprint.

But the experience back in 1999 hammering out a top quarterback contract with Akili Smith also played a role in the quick-strike negotiations, and no one was happier for Palmer than the gracious Smith Wednesday as the Bengals locker room anticipated Palmer's arrival.

No one knows how much the early signing will boost Palmer's development as a NFL quarterback more than Smith. Already, the signing can't be compared to the selections of Smith and David Klingler in 1992 in one major way because Palmer is going to be at training camp on the first day while those players missed virtually the entire summer because of holdouts.

"He's in great shape," Smith said. "He can come in and experience the NFL right off the bat and that's what it's all about."

The Bengals and agent David Dunn were able to prevent the repeat of the holdout that cost Smith the first 27 practices of training camp. Dunn was part of the Leigh Steinberg group that represented Smith four years ago, so he and the Bengals are no neophytes when it came to one of those convoluted rookie quarterback deals that produce contracts 50 pages long.

"This is going to be lovely for him. Just for him to get off to a good start from the beginning as a quarterback," Smith said. "Now he's got the

opportunity to study at least three months on his own before he even gets to Georgetown (College). He's in a much better situation than I was. And Marvin (Lewis) finally has this thing headed in the direction it's supposed to be going in. The big thing is, he'll be able to learn right away. That's everything."

Smith, who is now represented by Kennard McGuire out of Chicago, has often said he would have come in much earlier if he had to do it over again. He has never backed down from his belief that the holdout played a major role in his struggles that have produced just two starts in the past two seasons and three victories since he was the third pick in the draft.

Smith's deal, which has since voided to six years and netted him $10.8 million to sign, has pretty much yielded minimum salaries because he hasn't hit any of the triggers that would have turned it into a deal that could have approached $50 million. He also has said he felt the deal he signed in late August was pretty much the same one the Bengals offered in late July.

"I wouldn't have held out that long again,' Smith said. "I would have gone in earlier than I did. In the end, the client has the final say. The agent is the one working for me."

Steinberg also represented Klingler, a holdout that ended about a week before the season ended, as well as Jason Buck, another long holdout in 1989. Steinberg was also able to put together non-holdout deals with the Bengals, such as Dan Wilkinson in 1994 and Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. But Smith wonders if there were left over problems with Steinberg and Bengals President Mike Brown.

"I thought it was a little more business oriented between Mike and Leigh," Smith said. "What they had going on in the past, not giving in, no one giving in. Ultimately, I was the one affected."

But like '99, Brown had little to do with the Palmer deal, except sign off on it. Like the Smith deal, it was negotiated by the husband and wife team of executive vice president Katie Blackburn and director of business development Troy Blackburn.

In three of the past four seasons, they have worked out deals that have put the club's No. 1 picks in Georgetown before the start of training camp.

Defensive end Justin Smith, who missed the first 50 days of his career with a holdout in 2001, is the perfect example of how certain positions can survive a holdout and others can't. He went on to set a team rookie record 8.5 sacks.

"You just can't compare the positions of the two," Justin Smith said. "It's not even in the same league. A quarterback has to be on the same page with everybody. A D-end just has to pretty much be quick off the ball and that's pretty much it."

Smith calls his experience "water under the bridge," and, like Akili Smith, took heart in a move Wednesday that was anticipated by Palmer's new teammates.

"It's another sign that we're striving to turn things around and going in the right direction," Justin Smith said. "I'm glad he's here."

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