Smith, Bengals stalemated

8-15-01, 8:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals and Justin Smith drew no closer to a deal Wednesday after each side rejected the other's proposal.

Agent Jim Steiner, on his way to meet with Smith's family Wednesday night in Holt's Summit, Mo., said Cincinnati's proposal wasn't market value and that the Bengals rejected a deal that would slot Smith, the fourth pick, behind third pick Gerard Warren.

"It's a slotted deal that is less than Warren's deal in all respects," Steiner said. "Meaning it is less in signing bonus, less in first-year money, less in total money and less in total money and incentives."

The Bengals argue Smith's proposal is based on the third pick and not based on the last three deals at the fourth spot that include receiver Peter Warrick's incentive-laden $30 million plus total package from the Bengals last year.

"They have to understand that a slotted deal is not just about hard dollars," Steiner said. "It's also about about structure. We've looked at Charles Woodson and Edgerrin James and Peter Warrick (the last No. 4 picks), but they have to have some flexibility."

The Bengals have a total base deal of about $18 million on the table for Smith that fits behind Warren's $18.2 million at No. 3 and the $14 million of Richard Seymour at No. 6.

The Bengals think that's a solid offer because it's in line with Warren and Seymour and Smith gets about 10 percent more than Warrick in the first year ($10 million plus), plus more in base package, and total possible money.

"He's turned down a deal that would make him the fourth highest-paid player in the draft and gives him significantly more than Warrick," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn.

Which all means that Smith's holdout on Wednesday looked like it was dragging into Thursday, the 27th day, and beyond.

Both sides are feeling the frustration. Asked what other

hangups existed, Steiner said, "Everything we give them."

Blackburn thought she had a major break-through more than two weeks ago when she said Steiner told the club he wouldn't fight for aggressive incentives if the Bengals agreed to a split bonus. The Bengals agreed to the bonus, but they say Steiner is still seeking easy-trigger incentives obtained only by top three picks.

"He wants escalators where if he hits a minimum performance of 35 percent play time and minimum team improvements, he gets escalated salaries in all the years," Blackburn said. "We didn't do that for Akili Smith and he was a quarterback picked third. The fourth picks historically have to achieve to get paid."

Steiner called Warrick's incentives virtually unreachable after a season Warrick failed to get 801 receiving yards that would have meant a $500,000 bonus, as well as trigger a salary bump by $500,000 in each subsequent year of his contract.

Steiner says his incentive proposal resembles the 1999 deal for James, but the Bengals disagree, as they continue to do on guarantees.

Both sides are adamant about the stances on temporary guaranteed salaries that cover the second part of a signing bonus split over this year and next. Steiner says four of the top five picks signed have the guarantees that go away when the option bonus is exercised, and that any structure for a draft choice beyond No. 7 shouldn't be considered for the fourth pick.

The Bengals say half of the top 10 picks don't have the temporary guarantee and two-thirds of the first-rounders don't. Plus, they say he'll get the balance of the bonus by next March when he's on the 2002 roster.

"But that's not guaranteed," Steiner said. "The team can waive him before it would have to exercise the option (for the second part of the bonus)."

Asked if he thought the Bengals would cut Smith after this season, Steiner said, " The client thinks it should be part of the deal. Why for everybody else and not Justin?"

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