As the Bengals closed up shop Friday night after the third round of the NFL Draft, head coach Marvin Lewis sounded like a man who knew his team is right about where he wants it.
As the Bengals stepped to the clock to make the 37th pick four hours earlier, right tackle Andre Smith signed a three-year deal and became the 14th free agent to stay with the Bengals this offseason.
"You have to applaud the management group for what they got done because we were able to reach agreements with the group of guys we felt it was important to get agreements with," Lewis said. "To keep building upon where we were and to get better. Because as coaches we've got to get better. We've got the players back so now it's on us, it's on me, to make us a better football team."
Smith is the last key piece and it came after a pitched battle at the bargaining table pitting two of the tougher negotiators around in executive vice president Katie Blackburn and CAA's Ben Dogra. But in the end both sides got what they wanted.
Blackburn locked up Smith so the Bengals could gain a pick early in the draft, and Dogra made his client happy by keeping him in Cincinnati while getting an above market deal for right tackles but below what had been anticipated at $18 million for the three years.
As the Eagles sing, every form of refuge has its price.
"Katie did a great job and Ben Dogra knew the best place for Andre is right here in Cincinnati and now Andre has to keep doing what he's been doing because his career didn't get off to a great start with the holdout and injury (two broken feet)," Lewis said. "He's had two good seasons he can build upon. And get back to the same routine. He came back the way he was supposed to look like when he showed up. That's what he's supposed to do. He's been working his butt off and he's worked some of his butt off."
Lewis stayed in touch with Smith and he praised Dogra for keeping his client "attainable" so he had an open line to the club. But he also felt like Smith got more involved in negotiations the last week and helped make it happen.
"Andre has for the last week taken the bull by the horns," Lewis said. "I think he's grown up a little bit. He thinks he's a smart businessman who knows what's going on and in some ways he had to be educated about it. But he had to take control and I think he grew into that and that's a good thing."
Lewis thinks it's a sign that Smith has things ordered in his life.
"The people that know him say he's been the biggest guy, the best kid on the block for so long that sometimes he takes it for granted," Lewis said. "Don't relax … sometimes he relaxes a hair. That's our fault. As coaches we have to keep pushing Andre to never relax. To always get the most out of his ability; he has a lot. That's my responsibility."
Smith, 26, heading into his fifth year, says the last two injury-free seasons have been enjoyable all the way around and he thinks he knows why.
"I think it's just me buying into Marvin's system; not being the guy that balks against it," Smith said. " 'No, I'm not going to do it like that; I'm going to do it my way. I'm going to do it like I've always been doing it.' Just finally buying into it; doing everything the right way, being a pro, being on-time, just all the small things that make you a great player."
Smith may have made the key move when he actually packed up the day of the draft and drove to Cincinnati from his Birmingham, Ala., home. He said he just felt like "it was time."
"It's like a slug match, trying to figure out who's going to get the highest bid and who's going to get the lowest bid," Smith said. "It was pretty good; there were some great blows thrown, but we came out victorious because I'm back in Cincinnati, so it's great."