Steiner has been here before

4-21-01, 3:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Suddenly, St. Louis-based agent Jim Steiner is back in a high-profile negotiation with the Bengals.

Steiner, who very nearly brought quarterback Elvis Grbac to Cincinnati last month before doing a deal with Baltimore, represents fellow Missourian Justin Smith.

Steiner is also the agent who last training camp objected to the Bengals' Carl Pickens Clause, which puts a NFL contract's standard loyalty language in the signing bonus. Steiner's client, third-round pick Ron Dugans, held out for about three weeks and the clause was a major reason.

But Steiner said Saturday it's too early for all that talk and the Grbac negotiations show he's got a good relationship with the club. Bengals President Mike Brown joked Saturday that Steiner refers to Troy Blackburn, the Bengals' director of business development who negotiated the Grbac deal, as "Big Dog."

"So I guess we'll sic our "Big Dog on him," Brown said with a laugh.

"I don't want to get into the loyalty language and all that right now," Steiner said. "It's too early. You do one deal and you move on."

When the Bengals had

the fourth pick last year, they signed wide receiver Peter Warrick to a seven-year deal with about a $8.5 million signing bonus six weeks before training camp. It has voided to six years and would have maxed out at $42 million if Warrick made all his incentives, but he didn't his rookie year.

The Smith deal will most likely be different in structure because signing bonuses can be pro-rated only through the year 2006, since the NFL's collective bargaining agreement goes through 2004 and the last salary cap year is 2003.

That means teams can pro-rate signing bonuses for only as much as six years, which is going to alter the structure and size of up-front money.

"I don't know yet how it's going to work out," Steiner said. "I would think there would be some kind of combination of bonus and guaranteed money."

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