Dec 2, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith (71) before a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY
“How important is re-signing Andre Smith before free agency starts? And how bad of a loss would it be if he signs elsewhere?”
Bengals management faces a challenge with potential free agent, Andre Smith. The fifth year offensive tackle is reportedly looking for a contract in the range of $9 million per year. The Bengals picked Smith with their first round pick, sixth overall, in the 2009 draft after his successful career at Alabama in the SEC. He’s been consistent, starting thirty games in the last two seasons including all sixteen in 2012. He was instrumental in Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis’ league leading 14-1 success rate on 3rd & 1 conversions. Praised for his size, quickness and strength, he seems like a critical component for an offense that sometimes seemed timid in 2012.On the downside, Smith’s demands sound like Pro Bowl numbers despite having never been invited to that party. Many consider him occasionally slow and rank him well down the list of the league’s top linemen. In addition, in the 2013 draft, one without many flashy names at skill positions the Bengal’s might find a suitable replacement.
For example, another Alabama prospect, D.J. Fluker will probably be available when the Bengals pick 21st. Fluker may not be as quick and he may not be able to start out as a three down blocker, but when you’re trying to build a running game, he seems like quite an effective steamroller. Another option in the draft is Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, an extremely athletic 6′ 7″ 300+ pounder with demonstrable quickness and a solid work ethic, one thing that Andre Smith might not have learned as an undergrad at Alabama.While the draft provides some alternatives, the current roster includes Anthony Collins, a veteran with solid game experience and the youngster, Dan Knapp, unproven in the NFL but a solid starter with the Arizona Sun Devils. At the other end of the line, Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth provides a stable foundation; the eight year veteran leads the team in consecutive starts.Once again, team leadership will be playing an economics game, one which they have never seemed to play to the Bengal Fans’ satisfaction. Obviously, Smith’s expectations seem unrealistic. So we’ll wait to see where any interest in Smith as a free agent arises.
The gamble is that there’s not another competitive team, particularly in the Bengal’s path that might voice that interest. Worst case, Smith ends up in Cleveland paired up with Joe Thomas, considered by some to be the best tackle in the league. Should the Bengals have to face that pair twice, letting Smith go might prove to be regrettable.And flush with cash, who doesn’t know the Bengals have room to spare under the NFL’s salary cap? Using the draft to make a statement regarding the team’s weak defense makes a lot more sense than stopping the bleeding caused by another free agent exit. With that in mind, given that Smith is a proven and homegrown talent, the move should be one that is both generous and intelligent, below Smith’s unreasonable demand but perhaps loaded with incentives. Prevent the sacks, rack up rushing yards, get us to the Super Bowl, turn into an Anthony Munoz and you’ll set yourself and your family up for generations as another Bengal legend.
It is very important to re-sign Smith. He was the best right tackle in the game next season and if the Bengals are going to want to have one of the best lines in the league again next season, re-signing Smith is a necessity. It seems like he has just hit his prime so not only do we need to re-sign him, but we need to give a long term contract. Once he hits free agency, I’m afraid another team will give Smith an offer that the Bengals won’t match.
If we lose Smith, it would absolutely kill our offensive line. We most likely would be able to find a suitable replacement for Smith but not to his caliber. A consistent offensive line is a necessity to have for a contending team especially one with a developing QB that needs to have as much time in the pocket as possible. Plus, the Bengals running backs aren’t that special and need all the holes they can get. Smith should be the team’s #1 priority.
Smith was the best right tackle in pro football last year, and losing that production will be a very tough pill to swallow. Unfortunately, even if the Bengals do re-sign him, you probably won’t continue to get that level of production from a player who’s work ethic has been severely questioned throughout his career. He’s seeking a deal that will pay him $9 million annually, and if another NFL team is willing to pay him that, then good for him.
The Bengals can’t afford to pay him like that with upcoming extensions for Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, and possibly Jermaine Gresham, Michael Johnson, and Carlos Dunlap.
Make no mistake about though: The Bengals badly want to keep Smith and will work frantically to work out a deal with him before the start of free agency, but they won’t break the bank for him.