Bengals won't set precedent

8-1-01, 8:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals are guaranteeing one thing.

They aren't going to set a precedent for guaranteeing salaries in their contracts.

Which means they won't guarantee first-round pick Justin Smith's salaries in years two and three. Which means agent Jim Steiner's call on Monday that it's going to be a "good and long," holdout rings true even though the player drafted ahead of Smith signed Wednesday in Cleveland. Which means Smith is still waiting.

"I'm still thinking I'm going to play in the game," said Smith, when asked if he could watch Saturday's pre-season opener from Missouri. "If I got in there (Thursday), I could play Saturday."

But that doesn't look it's going to happen after Gerard Warren, the man picked a slot ahead of Smith's No. 4 spot, agreed with Cleveland on a deal that gives him $12.2 million in the first year and guarantees about $2.1 million of it.

The Bengals say guaranteed money hurts the club in the future. Their total money offer to Smith, they say, is in line with the Warren deal. Each figures to be worth about $18 million base and could expand to about $35 million with escalators. They say Smith only has to be on the roster by March of 2002 to make what would be his guarantees. A "99.999 certainty," the team says.

"We're not going to go down the path of guaranteed salaries," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn during Wednesday's practice. "Especially when there's no material difference for the player."

Although the Bengals aren't offering the guaranteed salaries other defensive linemen got (what the Browns gave Warren, the Patriots gave No. 6 Richard Seymour, and the 49ers gave No. 7 Andre Carter), they argue their structure all but guarantees Smith $10 million by March of 2002.

For the most part, the guaranteed salaries take the place of a second signing bonus in case the team doesn't exercise the second bonus after the player's rookie year. Although the Bengals aren't offering Smith guaranteed salaries, they say they are offering a provision that says if the club doesn't exercise the option, Smith gets the option bonus anyway.

It's believed this year's signing bonus offer is $5 million, the second option is $4 million, and there is about $1 million in salary and other bonuses to get to $10 million.

"So he only has to be on the team," Blackburn said. "It doesn't seem like an unfair

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thing to expect him to show up to get paid. Our total base package is right in line with Warren. It's the guarantees that are the problem."

As for Smith, he has no reason to believe he'll get cut. But he's also looking around the top of the round.

"I know I'll come in and play well. I'm not worried about getting cut," Smith said. "I can understand both sides. I just want what the other guys around me are getting in the draft. Warren got guarantees, Seymour got guarantees, Carter got guarantees. Tomlinson (at No.5) is going to get it."

When asked if the other teams will force the Bengals' hand, Blackburn argues that No. 8 David Terrell and No. 11 Dan Morgan didn't get guarantees.

"Each team has their right to deal with it the way they want," Blackburn said. "This is how we've chosen to deal with it. It's how we've always done it and what we've done here there is just no down side for the player."

Smith is standing by his agent, the St. Louis-based Jim Steiner. He says he doesn't think guarantees will become a part of future deals because they have been spurred by this season's salary-cap restrictions limiting contracts to six years.

"Jim made it clear to me that it will go back to the way it was next year," said Smith of the seven-year deals that yielded big signing bonuses.

The Bengals don't buy it. They think agents will use it against the teams in the future to get the guaranteed salaries that have been prevalent in baseball.

Smith knows what he said the weekend he was drafted. If things got out of hand, he would step in and tell Steiner to get a deal.

He's not there yet.

"I'm paying him to look out for my interests and that's where he's coming from," Smith said. "I've just asked him to be fair. And I don't think he's asking for anything that's above and beyond.'

Smith is certain he'll be able to come in and start no matter when he gets in.

"That's the one thing about playing defensive end," Smith said. "I'm in great shape and I know the defense. It's the same defense I had in college. I got the playbook down at the minicamps. I'm ready to go."

But there's no guarantees.

MOVES: The Bengals released free-agent FB Kenneth Williams, injured off the field last weekend. . .S Tremain Mack (back) sat out Wednesday's practice. So did DE Vaughn Booker, who was resting the knee that bothered him last year. Both are expected to play Saturday.

THIS AND THAT: Could RB Corey Dillon not get his first carry of the year until the pre-season home opener in Paul Brown Stadium Aug. 25? Head coach Dick LeBeau

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still won't say if he'll play this Saturday in Chicago, and would they give him any work on the AstroTurf Monster on Aug. 10 in Detroit, which claimed Ki-Jana Carter's knee six years ago? . .

Hall-of-Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz, one of the club's pre-season TV broadcasters, was at practice Wednesday. And as is LeBeau's M.O., he got Munoz off the sidelines with about five minutes left in practice and asked him to talk to the team when the players gathered in the end-of-session huddle.

"I only had five minutes notice," Munoz told the team about his speech. But he drove him his point about respecting the game's history and appreciating the opportunity to play in the NFL. Last year, LeBeau brought former Pro Bowl wide receiver Isaac Curtis off the sidelines for an address. . .

Munoz, a fellow Pro Bowl left tackle, mourned

Wednesday's loss of Korey Stringer. Even though Munoz and James Brooks were the fittest Bengals back in the day, Munoz always had to get intravenous fluids. He was virtually a nightly visitor at the Wilmington hospital during training camp and he's famous for his four-bag plane trip back from Los Angeles after the Bengals beat the Rams in OT during the '90 playoff run.

"It must be something to do with your constitution, how you're made," Munoz said. "There were guys bigger than me who never had to get one and I'd be in the hospital with little defensive backs. Look at me now. I'm just sweating standing here."

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