Franchising Justin Smith, while somewhat expected, makes you wonder: Why the tag? The dead-line to franchise/transition players is February 22 -- a full week away after the day it was announced. This makes me wonder...
Was Smith tagged simply because of contract negotiations?
There's a lot involved when negotiating long-term contracts that is saturated with incentives, bonuses and guarantees. And I won't pretend to be an expert about what goes on. With the February 22 deadline, it makes you curious why it was used on Smith. Are negotiations going so slow that they could pass the tag deadline and risk Smith entering Free Agency (March 2)? Possible. However, what could be the stumbling block? And I can't see the Bengals letting Smith play on a franchise contract. I really believe this was only used to keep Smith off the Free Agency market -- which is typical these days. Do I think the team and Smith are close to a deal? Yes, I do. At the same time, franchising Smith was a curious move.
Was Smith tagged because of Eric Steinbach?
It's been reported through the team's beat writers that the Bengals' first priority is retaining Eric Steinbach. He's perhaps the most coveted guard available in free agency. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that tagging Steinbach, with an additional million bucks, would draw more support than tagging Smith. But was tagging Smith a result that the team gave up on Steinbach or...
Here's an interesting perspective.
Did the team tag Smith so they could concentrate on signing Steinbach to a long term deal? When free agency roles around, no one can sign Smith and they, at their leisure, have plenty of time to agree on a long-term deal before July 14 -- the idiotic deadline to sign franchise/transition players to extensions. At the same time, the team has several weeks to dedicate themselves to Steinbach and getting him sealed before they risk losing him.
Would losing Steinbach be all that bad?
On my long journey home, I will beat ideas with a buddy. Mine was that the team should do what they can to seal Steinbach -- even at the projected price. I say that knowing, during Lewis' recent interview, the team won't go after the pricey free agents. He made the counterpoint that Andrew Whitworth would be more than capable to replace Steinbach. I agreed. My point is if the team can sign him, they do it. I wouldn't mind having someone with the talents of Whitworth backing up our guards and tackles while being the eventual successor for either Willie Anderson or Bobbie Williams.
What if the team signs Eric Steinbach, moves him to Center and Whitworth to Guard?
The beautiful thing about this offensive line is the versatility. If someone leaves or gets hurt during the course of the season, there's a talented backup somewhere.