Smith at stadium

9-7-01, 11:40 P.M. Updated: 9-8-01, 12:15 a.m. Updated: 9-8-01, 1:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Speculation that Justin Smith would sign a deal and end a 51-day stalemate heightened when the Bengals' first-round pick appeared at Paul Brown Stadium Saturday morning and looked to be on the verge of inking a six-year contract.

For the first time in the seven-week stalemate between the Bengals and Smith, reports of progress followed Friday's lengthy negotiating session. As the Bengals were 24 hours from their season opener against New England, a deal looked to be imminent.

After talks stopped at about 9:30 p.m., Friday, Troy Blackburn, the Bengals director of business development, said, "We've talked, we've made progress, we're going to pick it up it in the morning, and hope we can get something by the end of tomorrow."

Smith agreed with Blackburn's assessment, but he and agent Jim Steiner were as cautious as the Bengals. No one would say a deal is imminent.

"They've talked, they're going to talk in the morning, and I guess it's going good," Smith said Friday night. "I'm still in Missouri, but I'm getting ready to go in case it happens."

Asked if he's optimistic, Steiner said Friday night, "I'm cautious. It's been such a long road that's all I really want to say."

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