Smith agent hopeful

7-26-01, 10:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The agent for Bengals first-round pick Justin Smith expressed optimism Thursday that the negotiations are moving in the right direction.

Agent Jim Steiner said the club is indicating it is willing to discuss the idea of a two-tiered signing bonus, a

device used by other clubs in the first round that is compensating for this year's salary cap restrictions.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn had no comment after talks Thursday afternoon. But Steiner said he thinks the sides have moved past the philosophical differences of splitting a signing bonus into two or three years.

The Bengals prefer to count the bonus in one year.

"They are warming up to the idea of doing it," Steiner said. "The numbers don't work if you don't do it, but I think we're beyond that discussion. I think we're going to engage in serious discussions about that structure. That's progress and I look forward to it not dragging out."

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