Talks go slow

8-20-01, 7:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Justin Smith negotiations turned into a vigil Monday evening with both sides agreeing that if any deal for the Bengals' first-round draft choice is reached, it will be "later rather than sooner."

All signs pointed to a marathon session when agent Jim Steiner and Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn emerged for dinner here at the team's training-camp facility after about four hours of talks. Steiner said he would be spending the night in an area hotel because of airline logistics, which means the talks could spill into Tuesday.

That followed Sunday's six-hour session in Cincinnati that ended when Steiner had to get back home to St. Louis Sunday night.

Steiner agreed to return here Monday, but despite all the talk, it looks to be slow going. Steiner indicated during the dinner

break that he and the team were still tangling over the issues of guaranteed money and triggers for escalators that have pushed the holdout into its 31st day.

The club isn't bending on its stance against guaranteed money, which Smith seeks for what is believed to be the $4 million portion of a $9 million split-signing bonus payable in March.

More complex is the structure for escalators. Smith seeks the similar minimum play-time triggers the pick in front of Smith received, third pick Gerard Warren.

The Bengals are looking for the performance triggers they gave receiver Peter Warrick in the No. 4 slot last year.

Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau wouldn't say if Smith could play in Saturday's third pre-season game if he signed early this week. But LeBeau did suggest his starting right defensive end has lost invaluable time.

"Today is better than tomorrow," LeBeau said. "But we'd have to see what kind of shape he's in, get him back in the system, and going.

"I really think the first day of training camp is important for all first-year players," LeBeau said. "So that to me would be the critical day. A lot of our players didn't even get the benefit of all our (spring) coaching sessions because of the graduation timing of their classes. So anything that they get there is a little bit of a plus, but they're going to have to learn to play out here. So basically, you're starting from scratch when any of them get here."

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