Smith signs

9-8-01, 3:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With both sides giving in on some points, call this one, "The Missouri Compromise."

Justin Smith said the day after he was drafted that he would tell his agent when he wanted to get a done deal.

That turned out to be Saturday, 24 hours before the Bengals open the season against the Patriots at Paul Brown Stadium and 51 days after training camp started.

Indications are that six-year contract calls for $17.25 million in base salary and $10.8 million in a bonus split over the first two years, as well as a $1 million salary his rookie year.

"We wish it was done earlier, but we're happy he's here," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "We're focused on the most important thing right now and that's playing our first game."

Smith, the fourth pick in the draft out of Missouri, comes in billed as the best pass rusher in the draft. He

arrived Saturday morning and before signing the contract he watched the team's walk through as the Bengals finished up the deal with agent Jim Steiner.

After some heated talks last week, the sides didn't speak until Steiner called Friday afternoon from his St. Louis office.

"We got over all the major issues yesterday," Steiner said. "There was give and take on both sides. Justin wanted to get in before the season started. That and the fact they had some injuries on the line I think made for a lively conversation."

Smith showed up at 271 pounds, two less than his minincamp weight.

"I told my agent, 'Just get it done. No matter what just get it done,'" Smith said. "I'm not going into the season with this thing. I just don't think it's right. Just get me in and that's what happened. I'll never regret that."

Smith said he could play Sunday, but he won't. He also might not play next week in Tennessee.

The Bengals would have to cut a player on the 53-man roster to make room for him. If he doesn't play, they have a roster exemption that can last two weeks.

If he hadn't signed by Saturday, he was looking at losing $250,000 a week in total compensation.

"I'm happy with it," said Smith of a deal that grew out of discussions that, at times, were contentious and heatd.

"It's good enough for me, I'll put it that way," Smith said. "I'm happy with it. No hard feelings on my part at all. I'm just here to play."

There were a variety of stumbling blocks to the deal, the key one being what achievements trigger the deal to reach a maximum of $40.5 million.

The picks flanking Smith at Nos. 3 and 5 had one-time triggers that balloon the last three years of the deal. The Bengals seemed to get what they wanted in that Smith has to hit a mark each year.

But, as Steiner said, "It gives him the chance to earn significant money in the first three years of the deal. That's real money as opposed to other deals in which he may or may not get."

Steiner said the $23 million he can earn is through a mix of escalators and incentives, starting with getting 8.5 sacks in a season. There is also some money tied to team peformance.

"We also got more on the option bonus," said Steiner, referring to the $3.35 million payment he gets next year.

The Bengals compromised on that and Steiner compromised by dropping the demand for guaranteeing the option bonus.

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