7-29-01, 10:15 a.m.
Updated: 7-30-01, 1:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ As Justin Smith's holdout heads into Day 11, it's still not about the money. The sides are now grappling over the concept of guaranteed pay, always an anathema for the Bengals.
After giving in on Smith's proposal for a two-tiered signing bonus, the club says it has all the right money on the table. The Bengals argue it is virtually guaranteed in the first few years of the deal because they look at their track record of keeping their first-round draft choices.
"It seems to us the holdout is now over the unlikely prospect that we are are going to cut him in the first two years," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn. "That's the only way he's not going to get the money and it's so unlikely that it's a little bit frustrating."
Smith, the defensive end from Missouri, continues to back agent Jim Steiner's bid for the right structure.
"All I'm looking for is the bonus to be guaranteed, which is what the other guys are getting," Smith said Sunday night. "I think Jim's point is if I'm going to get it, why not just guarantee it? It sounds like things are going better and hopefully I can get in there this week."
With Smith's former college teammates headed to Columbia to start workouts Aug. 7, Smith was asked if he'd report here before the Tigers took the field.
"I hope to God so," said Smith, but he said he has no deadline.
Steiner emphasized Saturday night from St. Louis that talks are still civil and he's hopeful because last week the Bengals agreed to split the signing bonus into more than one year. He indicated the guaranteed salaries are only used until the second bonus kicks in.
"We waited a week until they acquiesced on the bonus option and it might take some more time before they come around on this major one," Steiner said. "It's a function
of the other deals. They all have guarantees."
Both sides are looking at the deal closest to Smith at the No. 4 pick. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour, the sixth choice by New England, got about $14 million in a six-year deal. But $11 million of it is guaranteed with a $4.8 million bonus this year, a $3.2 million bonus next year, and $3 million in guaranteed salaries the first three years.
Steiner says the Bengals have guaranteed Smith only $5 million. The club says it has more money on the table for Smith in the first three years than Seymour given that Smith was taken two spots ahead.
"We've given the player more than enough protection without the guarantees," Blackburn said. "There is no down side for him. We're significantly higher than Seymour's deal. We just don't see him getting cut in the first few years."
But Steiner noted that as of Saturday night, nine of the first-round deals and those in the top 10 have some form of guaranteed money. He emphasized he's looking for the guarantees as a bridge.
"They represent the proper level of the signing bonus and the increases that are going on through the round," Steiner said. "The second signing bonus is going to be lower than what will be on front end.
"There are all kinds of variables and we hope there can be some flexibility as there was on the bonus option," Steiner said.
But Blackburn sounded like that wasn't a guarantee.
"He's going to get a ton of money," Blackburn said.
It looks like the Smith deal won't get done until the deals around him do. No. 3 pick Gerard Warren is still out in Cleveland, as is No. 5 LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. The Bears signed receiver David Terrell to a five-year $11.3 million deal on Sunday, just in time to face the Bengals in next Saturday's pre-season opener.
Terrell, the eighth pick, reportedly became the sixth top 10 pick to get the split bonus with $4 million this year and the $3.3 million option next spring. Terrell is also to get nearly $10 million in escalators. It's believed the Bengals have enough escalators in Smith's six-year deal to nearly double the $17.25 million package.