Smith mulls; Johnson in range

7-16-01, 7:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Justin Smith had no plans to hold out back in April when the Bengals took the Missouri defensive end with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft.

And he has no plans to hold out now when training camp practices start July 21.

"But each side has to do their part," said Smith, one of 30 first-rounders still unsigned Monday. "All I want is a fair deal. Not the deal of the century. Just a fair deal and I'm in there. From what I understand, it's been a feeling out process and (the talks) haven't got that detailed yet. But I'm sure they will now."

The second-round negotiations have been specific enough that the agent for wide receiver Chad Johnson said Monday, "We are well along on the path of resolution," with both sides confident a deal is in striking range.

Jerome Stanley wouldn't get specific about a four- or five-year deal that should bring Johnson in $1.4 million range to sign, but Friday's meeting with Bengals vice president Paul Brown appeared to resolve the biggest obstacle with the length of the contract.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn called the club's six-year deal for Smith "a strong offer on

the table based on what the (collective bargaining agreement) allows for a framework."

Smith said he's only looking for "just a little bit more," than what Bengals wide receiver Peter Warrick received last year as the same fourth pick in the draft.

The Bengals say it's difficult under a six-year deal to match Warrick's contract, which included a $8.47 million signing bonus pro-rated over seven years. Bengals President Mike Brown says the Bengals' offer is "very similar," to the Warrick numbers because the CBA allows only six-year deals this year. That cuts down on the number of years teams can pro-rate a signing bonus into the rookie pool.

The Falcons got overall No. 1 pick Michael Vick signed by converting the signing bonus into guaranteed money in future years.

Brown says the structure of Atlanta's deal may be slowing down the first-round action. Ever since Vick signed in May, Brown has said he doesn't like the concept.

"Our argument is the rookie pool is there for a reason and it takes away money from veterans if (the bonus) is pushed into the future," Brown said. "It also puts the agent in a situation where he might not be able to bring back something significant compared to what happened a year ago. But the system restricts what improvements can be made and what we can give him."

Brown doesn't know why signings in the first round haven't speeded up this month.

"I'm not sure, but it is quite abnormal this late," he said.

Smith feels things are a little bit different for him, too.

"I want to get in there more than the coaches want me in there, believe me," Smith said. "I'm ready to go, but it's not like college when you just show up on the first day.

"Now there are the numbers," Smith said. "But it's a business. I want to get it out of the way so all I'm thinking about it is football. I'm in good shape (275 pounds) and I think only good things are going to happen."

Only about $30,000 separates the Bengals and fourth-rounder Rudi Johnson. But it's complicated by the fact the player drafted behind Johnson got that $30,000 in incentives, which the Bengals don't like to do for picks taken below the second round.

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