Pro-Football-Reference.com has what they call Career Approximate Value (CarAV). It's a complex formula used to measure a players performance.
I averaged the CarAV for the top 32 picks in each draft from 1970-2005. As expected the top picks were the best players. But they weren't nearly as good as the current contracts would indicate. Based on the average performance of the 360 top 10 picks, 2009 contracts dollars exceed a players value by around 200%-250%!
After the top ten things evened out, with the later first round picks being a little under paid relative to the median first round deal.
The Bengals are correct. Making Smith the second highest paid player on the team is financially insane.
Solution: Don't draft in the top ten. Try to draft number 32 if possible, it seems to be the best value.
Previously, I was in support of Brown for standing his ground. But now I think they should pay Smith. Overpaying an unproven rookie is part of the penalty for having a losing team.