No deal but still dealing

8-20-01, 7:10 p.m.

Updated: 8-20-01, 10:15 p.m.

Updated: 8-21-01, 9:20 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Justin Smith negotiations shut off Monday evening and are scheduled to resume Tuesday morning with no inkling from either side where the talks stand.

Agent Jim Steiner returned here to the Bengals' training camp facility at Georgetown College about 8:50 a.m. Tuesday, loaded down with bags of paperwork in both arms.

There was a sense of optimism from some parties close to the negotiations Monday night, which was quickly quashed by the principals.

There was a sense of optimism from some parties close to the negotiations, which was quickly quashed by the principals.

"All we're saying is that we're done for the night and we'll pick it up in the morning," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, who has been negotiating with her husband, Bengals director of business development Troy Blackburn.

"I'm not prepared to say anything beyond that."

Asked if there was a sense of optimism Monday night, Steiner said, "I wouldn't say there is anything yet one way or the other. We still don't have a deal."

The negotiations still appear as sticky as they were earlier in the day, when both sides agreed that if any deal for the Bengals' first-round draft choice is reached, it will be "later rather than sooner."

Although there has been no dearth of discussions, Steiner indicated Monday that he and the team were still tangling over the issues of guaranteed money and triggers for escalators that pushed the holdout into its 31st day.

Monday's six-hour session

followed Sunday's six-hour meeting that ended in Cincinnati when Steiner had to get back home to St. Louis Sunday night.

Steiner agreed to return here Monday, but both sides are remaining close mouthed.

The Blackburns spoke briefly with Smith himself Monday night, but there has been virtually no public comments about the talks since last week.

In fact, the only thing public about the negotiations have been the breaks for meals. The Bengals hosted Steiner to a Frisch's take-out lunch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and to dinner and a snack Monday night at the training camp dining hall. That's where they plan to meet for breakfast Tuesday.

The club has said it won't bend on its stance against guaranteed money, which Smith seeks for what is believed to be the $4 million portion of a $9 million split-signing bonus payable in March.

More complex is the structure for escalators. Smith seeks the similar play-time triggers the choice in front of Smith received, third pick Gerard Warren.

The Bengals are looking for the performance triggers they gave receiver Peter Warrick in the No. 4 slot last year.

Head coach Dick LeBeau wouldn't say if Smith could play in Saturday's third pre-season game if he signed early this week. But LeBeau did suggest his starting right defensive end has lost invaluable time.

"Today is better than tomorrow," LeBeau said. "But we'd have to see what kind of shape he's in, get him back in the system, and going.

"I really think the first day of training camp is important for all first-year players," LeBeau said. "So that to me would be the critical day. A lot of our players didn't even get the benefit of all our (spring) coaching sessions because of the graduation timing of their classes. So anything that they get there is a little bit of a plus, but they're going to have to learn to play out here. So basically, you're starting from scratch when any of them get here."

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