After Robert Geathers signed a long-term contract, the general belief was that Justin Smith was gone. "On the contrary laddie" says Len Pasquarelli.
The starting right end, a six-year veteran, is eligible for unrestricted free agency and is viewed as one of the top players in a lean market. There are already rumors that three or four teams have targeted Smith, and if he makes it to the open market, chances are good someone is going to overpay for him. That's the conundrum that faces the Cincinnati brass in negotiations: How much is Smith worth? The team just committed $12.5 million in bonuses and $19 million in total compensation over the first three years to Geathers. Smith is likely going to view those numbers as a starting point for his deal.
But Smith was overdrafted in 2001, when Cincinnati used the fourth overall pick to select him, and has never posted double-digit sacks in a season. In six seasons, Smith has 41½ sacks -- fewer than seven per year. He posted three sacks in the 2006 season opener, finished the season with just 8½ and registered just one-half sack in the final nine games of the campaign.
Smith is a solid player, and the Bengals want him back. But there's a limit to how high Cincinnati will go to keep him. Should Smith depart, the Bengals have the option of moving Geathers to the right side, probably his more natural position, and where his pass-rush opportunities would be further enhanced.