No. 1 pick hopes to play slot

8-14-01, 10:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Justin Smith plans to meet with agent Jim Steiner Wednesday to review the latest contract proposals from both sides.

Smith, who on Wednesday will tie the 26-day holdout of another Smith of two years ago, was upbeat Tuesday night about striking a deal that gets the fourth pick in the NFL Draft into training camp before the next preseason game on Aug. 25.

"My agent has told them he'll do a slot deal. A little less than the third pick and I'm ready to go," said Smith from his home in Holt's Summit, Mo. "I don't see a problem getting it done knowing what they got done with the third pick."

Smith, labeled the draft's best pass-rushing end, was also enthused after watching the defensive line play in the Bengals' 27-24 victory in Detroit Friday night.

"Reinard (Wilson) played great. I thought they all did," said Smith of his fellow defensive end who had two sacks.

Told Wilson's goal is to play opposite Smith in the Bengals' pass-rush package, Smith said, "If he plays like that, we're going to be able to mess up a lot of things back there."

Smith isn't surprised the Cincinnati TV stations are playing the now infamous I-don't-plan-to-hold-out clips from the day after the draft.

"I figure I'm getting my butt chewed up there," Smith said. "All I'm looking for is market value and I think we can get there by what Jim is talking about on the slotting.

"My job is to go up there and play football the best that I can," Smith said, "and what I'm thinking about is meeting with Jim, it works out, signing, getting in there, and going to the playoffs."

The Bengals, who say they have sent proposals in line with the market, are hopeful, too. But they are also cautious after talks with Steiner Monday didn't yield much. And the player picked behind Smith at

No. 5, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, is nowhere near a deal with the Chargers.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn sent a revised proposal late Monday night after the discussion, but had yet to talk to Steiner at length Tuesday.

"He told us he was sending us something and we've sent them two proposals with the revision," Blackburn said. "Hopefully something good is going to come out of the work we're both doing."

Steiner couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, the 25th day of the holdout. Quarterback Akili Smith, the third pick in the 1999 draft, signed on the 26th day of his stalemate.

Blackburn is hopeful Steiner-Smith will understand the Bengals want to do the traditional fourth-slot structure dating back to Charles Woodson and Edgerrin James in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and the one the club used to sign Peter Warrick with the same fourth pick last year.

"A consistent history is that in the fourth spot, you have to play well to earn more," Blackburn said. "The fourth pick gets an opportunity for a large amount of money if he can play."

The Bengals and Steiner have also yet to resolve the differences in the guarantee issue. Smith wants $4 million of his $9 million signing bonus guaranteed in annual salaries until he knows the Bengals will keep him on the roster this upcoming March.

But it appears the Carl Pickens Clause won't become an item of debate. Steiner represented third-round pick Ron Dugans last year when he held out for four days on the issue of standard player contract loyalty language attached to the signing bonus.

But Steiner also represents fullback Lorenzo Neal and he signed the clause back in May.

In fact, Smith is the most optimistic voice in the discussions. He seems eager to start earning it.

He's driving to Jefferson City, about 20 minutes from his home, to meet with the St. Louis-based Steiner. He enjoyed watching Friday's win at a friend's home where Direct TV was in operation.

"It was a great game," Smith said. "I'm getting sick of watching."

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