Smith resolved in talks

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

Updated: 8-15-01, 11:30 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.

After agent Jim Steiner met with Smith and his family Wednesday night in Holt's Summit, Mo., he said the Smiths are resolved, "to stay in this thing until they get fair-market value for being the fourth pick in the draft. Those are my marching orders.."

Steiner said the Bengals rejected a deal that would slot Smith 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 him being 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 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.

But Steiner says the Bengals fall dramatically short in first-year compensation. That's because the sides see the amount of the signing bonus differently because of the guarantee concept, which along with what triggers Smith's incentives are snarling the talks.

Which all means that Smith's holdout on Wednesday dragged toward 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 split the bonus, but they say Steiner is still seeking easy-trigger incentives obtained traditionally 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 he 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.

And Steiner called the incentive proposal for Smith "unearnable," because it's tied to playoff appearances and high-sack totals, as well as play time.

Steiner says his incentive proposal resembles the 1999 deal for James, but the Bengals disagree and have modeled some of their incentive package on the Seymour deal at No. 6.

Both sides also continue to disagree on the temporary guarantee. They 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 Smith is all but guaranteed 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)."

Steiner says there is about an $800,000 spread between the No. 3 and No. 4 picks for first-year compensation in 1999 and 2000, but a $4 million spread between Warren and Smith in the Bengals' proposal. That's because Steiner won't count the portion of the bonus that's not guaranteed. The Bengals count what is believed to be about the remaining $3-4 million because they say there's a slim chance they'll cut him.

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?"

Steiner wouldn't be specific about how far Smith is prepared to go in the dispute.

"Until he gets the right, fair contract," Steiner said. "When ever that point comes. Our proposal is signable. It's right on the numbers."

But the Bengals also believe they have the right numbers, based on the recent past and latest deals. Which is why the sides are heading into the club's pre-season off weekend without a deal.

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