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Bengals to go slowly with Smith

Andre Smith (Bengals photo)

Updated: 6 p.m.

The Bengals have signed first-round pick Andre Smith in a deal that could be as much as $42 million and the Alabama right tackle rushed onto the field in time to stretch as practice began.

Smith, the sixth pick in the draft, is the next-to-last draft choice to sign in the NFL, ending a 30-day standoff that began at the Bengals' first practice on July 31 at Georgetown College. The club didn't release terms.

At least initially, the Bengals are going to go slowly with him.

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander said after Sunday's practice that "he's not all of a sudden going to be starting anytime soon." The man who coached tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones and guard Eric Steinbach to productive rookie years isn't ready to make the same claim on Smith.

"It's impossible," he said of a crash course. "I'm not afraid to put rookies in there, but this guy is so far behind, he's got so much work to do. ... It's going to be an intense year for him."

Even though Smith got to the practice field only 30 minutes after he signed, it was late enough that Alexander couldn't work him because "he didn't know which plays we were running" for the practice and he was more of an observer.

Smith's weight has been a concern since the draft and while he looked big, he didn't look grossly out of shape. But as Alexander admitted, "I do think it's going to be an issue with him that he's going to have to take charge of."

At an ensuing news conference head coach Marvin Lewis said he has yet to decide if Smith is going to play Thursday night against the Colts in the preseason finale even though he barely worked on Sunday.

As for what lies ahead for Smith in the classroom, Alexander said, "You better get him now because he's going to be with me."

An industry source said that Alvin Keels, Smith's agent, came back to Cincinnati on Saturday a week after his initial visit and finalized the deal with Bengals negotiators Katie and Troy Blackburn. It's believed to be a complex contract hinged on play time and options that gives Smith, the sixth pick, more money than Jacksonville tackle Eugene Monroe at No. 8 over five years at about $30 million.

The holdout grew out of the Raiders deal at No. 7 for Darrius Heyward-Bey at $38 million total. The Bengals felt that was out of whack with the rest of the first-round signings while Keels wanted the club to be true to the slotting system and wanted more than that seventh pick. The Bengals wanted something closer to Monroe and the deal for last year's sixth pick.

Smith started at right tackle during all of the spring workouts, a spot that has been taken by second-year player Anthony Collins. Collins has looked good protecting the passer and is trying to make his run play just as effective. Off a season he was named the nation's best lineman, the 6-4, 335-pound Smith is known as a superior run blocker that is trying to make his protection skills just as effective.

What is unclear is how this affects the Bengals final roster. Smith needs time to get acclimated and with just one preseason game and 15 days left before Opening Day, the Bengals may have to use a two-week roster exemption on Smith.

That means he can practice but not play in a game, including Thursday night's preseason finale against the Colts and the Sept. 13 opener against Denver, both at Paul Brown Stadium. If he does play in a game, the Bengals immediately lose the exemption, so it would be hard to see activating him before the second game of the season Sept. 20 in Green Bay.

Also involved in the talks was one of Keels' partners, Cincinnati-based agent Jimmy Gould. Gould, an Indian Hill neighbor of the Blackburns (he once was a soccer coach for one of their daughters), is a veteran of doing contracts with the team.

Gould negotiated a pre-training camp deal for No. 1 pick Peter Warrick in 2000 and in 1998 he did the contract that helped broker the trade that sent franchise player Dan Wilkinson to the Redskins for the first-round and third-round draft picks that turned out to be linebacker Brian Simmons and guard Mike Goff.

According to Steve Wyche of, the Bengals have an option after the 2010 season to extend Smith's base deal to six years and a total of $42 million with $29 million guaranteed. The base deal is for four years at $26 million with $21 million in guarantees.

According to, the base deal matches what Vernon Gholston received last year at the sixth pick in average and guarantees. Getting the option would net Smith $29 million guaranteed, $5.5 million more than Heyward-Bey at No. 7. 

There are positives for both sides. The Bengals get what they want in that they basically have two years to see if Smith pans out for the big money, they avoid paying a slot deal, and it also gives them some protection in case there is no football in 2011. Plus, by then a six-year, $42 million deal (with incentives maxing out at $50 million) could be a bargain for a tackle.

For Smith, he'll get the big number if he plays and if the Bengals don't exercise the option, he'll be a free agent with another shot at a big deal.

Gould wouldn't talk numbers, but said he felt it was important enough to cut short a European vacation.

"Alvin called me up and asked me to work with him on this and he's an excellent agent to work with," Gould said. "I've had some experience working with the Brown family and it goes back three decades." 

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