Posted: 10:45 p.m.
On and off the field.
"Who cares?" Smith asked about potential sack totals and contract figures. "Let's go play the ballgames."
Which is why the Bengals love Smith. He plays hard and says nothing whether he gets three sacks, like he did in Sunday's opener, or six sacks, like he did all last season.
So after Smith nearly bullied Chiefs left tackle Kyle Turley back into retirement, Willie Anderson said it for him before Wednesday's practice.
"He came into the league as a speed rusher, but now he's a speed guy with a bull rush and spins moving around," said Anderson, the Pro Bowl right tackle who has seen plenty of rushers come and go. "I love it when our defensive ends embarrass other team's tackles. He's a lot more than a blue-collar (player), too. He has the ability to be a superstar, that guy that can put up 10 sacks a year. Once we give him the opportunity to rush and the guys around him keep playing at a high level, as hard as he comes and as hard as he plays, he'll luck into four or five of them."
BENGALS ALL-TIME SACK LEADERS:
Eddie Edwards, 1977-88, 83.5
Reggie Williams, 1976-89, 62.5
Ross Browner, 1978-86, 59.0
Justin Smith, 2001-present, 37.0
Tim Krumrie, 1983-94, 34.5
With Smith set to line up Sunday against Kevin Shaffer, the struggling Browns left tackle, there is a shot he may have a very nice head start to breaking his career-best 8.5 sacks set in his rookie year of 2001.
After he did that without the benefit of a training camp and showing up the day before the opener because of a holdout, the working assumption was that he would become a perennial double-digit sacker.
He hasn't, but that hasn't stopped Smith from becoming one of the more productive defensive players from 2001's talented first round. Smith hasn't reached the Pro Bowl like defensive tackles Richard Seymour of New England, Marcus Stroud of Jacksonville, and Casey Hampton of Pittsburgh. And he may not be in the tier with another defensive tackle, the Broncos' Gerard Warren. But he has been far more productive than 49ers defensive end Andre Carter, has arguably contributed more to his defense than guys like tackle Damoine Lewis and linebacker Dan Morgan, and has had a career on a par with tackle Ryan Pickett.
- Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta - Pro Bowler; 2. Leonard Davis, G, Arizona - Solid starter; 3. Gerard Warren, Browns DT - Solid starter with Broncos; 4. Justin Smith, DE, Cincinnati - Solid starter with 37 career sacks and 421 tackles; 5. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego - Pro Bowler; 6. Richard Seymour, DT, New England - Pro Bowler; 7. Andre Carter, DE, San Francisco - One 12-sack year in 30-sack career with 270-plus fewer tackles than Smith; 8. David Terrell, WR, Chicago - Released multi times; 9. Koren Robinson, WR, Seattle - Troubled and traveled; 10. Jamal Reynolds, DE, Green Bay - Out of the league.
- Dan Morgan, LB, Carolina -Solid starter; 12. Damione Lewis, DT, St. Louis - Good No. 3 tackle type on second team; 13. Marcus Stroud, DT, Jacksonville - Pro Bowler; 14. Kenyatta Walker, OT, Tampa Bay - Trying to replace him for years; 15. Rod Gardner, WR, Washington - Journeyman; 16. Santana Moss, WR, Jets - Pro Bowler; 17. Steve Hutchinson, G, Seattle - Pro Bowler; 18. Jeff Backus, OT, Detroit - Solid starter; 19. Casey Hampton, NT, Pittsburgh - Pro Bowler.
- Adam Archuleta, S, Rams - Solid starter; 21. Nate Clements, CB, Buffalo - Pro Bowler; 22. Will Allen, CB Giants - Middle tier starter on second team; 23. Deuce McAllister , RB, New Orleans - Pro Bowler; 24. Willie Middlebrooks, CB, Denver - Out of league; 25. Freddie Mitchell, WR, Philadelphia - Out of league; 26. Jamar Fletcher, CB, Miami - Journeyman; 27. Michael Bennett, RB, Minnesota - One-time Pro Bowler on second team; 28. Derrick Gibson, S, Oakland - Three interceptions, two sacks in career; 29. Ryan Pickett, DT, Rams - Off highly-pursued free agency.
- Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis - Elite receiver; 31. Todd Heap, TE, Baltimore - Pro Bowler.
Here's a guy (Smith) that plays all three downs every series every game (his streak of 76 straight games leads the defense) with a motor that doesn't stop and a guy that you can write in for 90 tackles and seven sacks a year.
"Justin is always in great shape, plays hard and he plays every down; he holds up well against the run," defensive line coach Jay Hayes said way back before the draft.
Don't tell Anderson the guy's a bust. As the fourth pick in the 2001 draft, Smith wasn't held to the same standards of Pickett and Adam Archuleta and Michael Bennett. He's a prisoner of the top five.
"He hasn't had the guys around him; not until Marvin got here," Anderson said. "Don't judge him on sacks. Don't judge him on that. Ever since he was drafted he's been one of our top two or three defensive players. I would say with Takeo (Spikes) and Brian Simmons ... you watch opposing tackles block him and there are two guys standing behind them. That's respect.
"The sacks will come and recognition will come once we pull the chip block off him. Now you can't chip and double team slide to him, (if) you have other guys get pressure. If Justin gets singled up week in and week out, everybody on this team is counting on him to get that sack, get pressure that leads to a turnover."
Now the party game in Bengaldom is to figure out how much Smith is making per sack. The meter is running as he heads into free agency.
It's believed the Bengals have had informal, take-the-temperature-discussions with agent Jim Steiner but neither side looks to be particularly ready to do something.
Why should Smith be in a hurry to get to the table as his leverage mounts? And the Bengals, who have been preoccupied with wrapping up three-fifths of their offensive line, aren't prepared to pull the trigger.
They will probably come hard at Smith, but not much before December. They have to see if fellow first-rounders like David Pollack and Johnathan Joseph reach incentives that would impact the club's room under the salary cap. Plus, what if the club decides to go to a 3-4 defense next year? Back in May when Smith said he doubted the Bengals would re-sign him, he also said he didn't think he was a fit in the 3-4.
It's not under discussion, but the Bengals are obviously charting how it comes out. What if Pollack and Rashad Jeanty emerge as 3-4 outside backers and kids like Domata Peko and Jonathan Fanene have to get on the field? The problem is, nickel edge rusher Robert Geathers, off his career-best two-sack game, isn't a 3-4 player, either. It figures if the Bengals can't pay Smith, they would have to keep Geathers, scheduled to become a restricted free agent, and if he has any number of sacks at all they'd probably have to tender him at first-round compensation to deter other clubs.
That would certainly be far less than Smith money.
Which is how much?
As we did in May, check out the Grant Wistrom comparison. In the six seasons Wistrom spent as a Rams end, he played in 91 games, had 41.5 sacks, and 462 tackles. In five seasons and a game, Smith has 37 sacks and 421 tackles in 80 games. Project '06 into the mix and Smith's numbers are almost dead on if you put him down for 16 games, six sacks, 90 tackles: 94 games, 40 sacks, 504 tackles. After the '03 season, Wistrom got $14 million up front in a six-year deal for about $33 million from Seattle.
Now, the question is can the Bengals pay an elite quarterback, an elite wide receiver, two elite tackles as well as a workmanlike defensive end that may be approaching his career high in sacks?
"I'm not worried about it," Smith said back in May. "Not my call; it's their business."
That's the beauty of Smith.
This is what he said Wednesday.
"I'm just thinking about the next game," Smith said. "All that other stuff ... "