In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals used the sixth overall pick to select Andre Smith, the offensive tackle out of the University of Alabama. Smith was coming off a less-than-stellar performance in the pre-draft events, including the Combine, where he looked out of shape. After the Bengals drafted him, a contract holdout began and lasted through the preseason. His first few seasons were marred by injury and inconsistent play but in 2011 he seemed to get into shape and began to improve his play. Now, after a tremendous 2012 season, Smith is a free agent and though the Bengals will try to retain him, the question is whether or not they will be able to.
Smith’s rookie season holdout was a result of a wide difference in opinion of what his contract should be between he and the Bengals front office. He was looking for a five year deal, while the team only offered four years, with an option to add two more years. After his first two sub-par seasons, the Bengals declined the option, making him a free agent after this past year. These contract moves in the past could be a factor now if Smith perceives them as slights and holds them against Mike Brown in the new negotiations. He could conceivably choose another team, even if Cincinnati matches the contract offer if he still holds a bit of a grudge.
Then there is the issue of money. Yesterday, it was revealed that the Bengals will use their franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson, which will pay him more than $11 million. That will put a large dent in the available salary cap and with Smith asking for at least $9 million, the Bengals have some decisions to make. The team has some great young players that will need contract extensions soon and will need cap space to sign them. Geno Atkins is due for a huge raise, AJ Green is going to get a mega-deal and Andy Dalton, as a quarterback, is going to get a large contract as well. Can the Bengals afford to invest so much money in a right tackle?
The other factor that could play a part is the Bengals interest in signing the other free agents on the team. Pat Sims, Adam Jones and Wallace Gilberry are all free to negotiate with other teams but are guys the Bengals would be better off keeping if possible. Some big decisions will need to be made and they might not all be popular ones. Right now, Smith is the biggest. If the Bengals can’t get a deal that benefits the team, signing him back might not be an option. Fans won’t like it, but re-signing him to an unwieldy contract might hurt the team more than letting him go.