You can now officially consider the Andre Smith contract situation a horse that we want to beat to death.
One's viewpoint on the Bengals' offseason plan almost being complete depends on if you're a "glass half-full" optimist, or a "glass half-empty" pessimist. As has been made well-known over the past few months, the team's focus has been on retaining as many of their own key players as possible with a slow and steady approach to it all. They've done pretty well with their plan, keeping key players like defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones, wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate, among others. There is just one more big deal that remains: get starting right tackle Andre Smith back in the fold.
As it stands today, that goal doesn't look as if it will be reached anytime soon. A recent report from The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy told us that the two sides were "far apart" in the negotiations and it's now bordering on ugly. You see, the gap of what Smith thinks he's worth is likely more than what the market demands and/or what the Bengals' brain trust is currently willing to offer him. Let's review some of the issues that are handicapping the potential deal.
1.) There has been almost zero interest for his services, according to reports. This is likely for a few reasons. One of which is that the teams around the NFL have shied away from Smith because of his history of weight issues and injuries. The two aren't exclusive from one another. Some also think that the lack of interest stems from a public knowledge that both parties want Smith to be back in Cincinnati.
2.) There were a multitude of other quality tackles in the free agent market. The market for what Smith should be offered has basically been set, thanks to deals given out to other prominent free agent tackles like Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer, Phil Loadholt and others. Still, all of those quality tackles out there may have forced Smith to be lost in the shuffle. It should be pretty cut and dry as to what Smith should be signing for, right? It isn't though, likely because the Bengals are pointing to Vollmer's incentive-laden deal and Smith's camp probably wants more guaranteed money. Has Smith really earned a bunch of guaranteed money, though?
3.) There is a plethora of talent at tackle in this year's draft. What haunts Smith in his negotiations is what is giving the Bengals a ton of leverage in the contract talks. There could be four or more tackles taken in the first round of this year's draft and the Bengals could be one of the teams taking one if the talks with Smith continue to break down.
4.) The stigma of the "right tackle value versus left tackle value. Don't get Willie Anderson started on this one. Even though most of us recognize that the right tackle is charged with blocking some of the league's better pass-rushers, there is still a trend of teams paying more for a left tackle. We don't know for sure, but Smith could be looking for Long-like money and the Bengals may be one of the teams sticking to the old trend of paying less for right tackles. Smith's past has to also be playing a role here.
5.) Smith's underestimation of how teams view his past and future associated risk. Though some claim that Smith isn't a "one-year wonder", the big tackle really only has one full season of quality football to stand on. His 2011 season was solid, but he still missed two games and didn't truly hit his stride until 2012. Conditioning and injury issues aside, there was a minor gun issue that Smith was involved in this offseason and that could also be in the minds of other clubs. All of this leads back into the first issue that I listed.
The sad part is that this isn't the first time that the two parties have been down this road. Rewind back to 2009 when Smith was a rookie and was drafted at No.6 overall after he made a debacle of the pre-draft process. The Bengals weren't budging on a rookie contract proposal to Smith and his agent, Alvin Keels. Some of it had to do with Smith being picked between Mark Sanchez and Darrius Heyward-Bey--two elite-salaried skill positions. Thanks to the rookie wage scale that was set in place with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2011, this won't be an issue for any club in the foreseeable future. Still, if you watched HBO's "Hard Knocks" documenting Cincinnati's offseason that year, you would have seen some (in)famous exchanges between the Bengals front office and Keels/Smith.
Though the overall scenario is the same, there are some subtle differences. "Hard Knocks" pulled back the curtain and made the ugly contract holdout public, essentially making a villain out of both parties. This time around, we're not getting the same inside view that we did four years ago, but the overall result is the same. One has to think that the Bengals knew that they would be in for a dogfight when they chose to use the franchise tag on Johnson instead of Smith. Let's hope for a resolution soon.