Updated: 2-23-08, 6:25 a.m.
INDIANAPOLIS - Justin Smith echoed Marvin Lewis on Friday and said he'll "definitely" give the Bengals a chance to re-sign him if they are in the economic mix when free agency opens in seven days.
Although Smith says he can play in a 3-4, the Bengals may have taken one step closer to doing it without him when they agreed to terms with end Jonathan Fanene on a three-year deal.
Also Friday, the Bengals officially opened extension talks with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in a very general greeting with agent Kinnard McGuire.
Fanene, who turns 25 next month, was scheduled to become a restricted free agent and was looking at a one-year tender of $927,000, so he's probably looking at a total package in the $4 million plus range. The teams that were said to be interested in the 6-4, 300-pound Fanene were 3-4 teams such as the Browns since he is seen as a guy that can play both end and nose tackle.
Fanene, plagued by injuries in his first two seasons when he played just seven games, worked himself into the rotation this season with solid play down the stretch.
Smith Speaking from Missouri, Smith, who has started the last 107 games at end for the Bengals, said he didn't give it much thought when the Bengals chose to make backup right tackle Stacy Andrews their franchise free agent instead of him.
But he did understand the thinking.
"They're looking at a long-term deal and (left guard Andrew Whitworth) has only a couple of years left (on his contract) and you don't know what Willie (Anderson) is going to do," Smith said.
Smith thinks he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, so the scheme apparently won't be a factor when choosing a new team. Smith has heard the same scuttlebutt about Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, San Francisco, and his hometown Rams, but has heard nothing officially.
On Friday at the NFL scouting combine, Rams head coach Scott Linehan and personnel chief Billy Devaney talked about how no St. Louis defensive end had more than 4.5 sacks last season. With a nod to tampering, Devaney didn't answer if he had interest in Smith.
Although Smith is coming off a career-low two sacks.
But there were reasons.
"Because of the injuries, (the ends) were slanting inside on third down in the 'A' gap," Smith said of a depleted linebacker corps that had to learn on the run. "We were bringing a linebacker and safety off the edge to blitz. That hampered us, but we had to make it simple because of all the injuries."
But, as usual, Smith made no excuses. About the two sacks or the fact he has never had a 10-sack season. Some have argued he didn't have enough personnel or play in enough games with the lead to make it happen.
"I've got no excuses; I didn't get it done," said Smith, 28. "I guess my focus now is going to be getting on a defense with a lot of talent, make something happen somewhere before I get too old, and get a lot of wins and win a ring."
Smith made it clear that he thought the Bengals were going to be talented next season in leaving the door open for a return.
"I hear Odell is coming back," said Smith of the suspended middle linebacker. "David Pollack could be back and Ahmad (Brooks) is going to be healthy. They've got 10 (draft) picks, right? So some of those guys are going to be able to play. The Bengals aren't going to go through what they did last year. You can't make excuses because of injuries, but they are a factor."