ICYMI: On Eve of Training Camp, Where’s Andre Smith’s Head At?

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Oct 9, 2011; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith (71) looks up at the scoreboard during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Fernando Medina-USA TODAY Sports

When the preseason begins in earnest, next Friday, one big question will be about one big guy that just signed one big contract, Andre Smith. This summer, this question is so big, it could easily impact the Bengals 2013 win-loss record when the playoffs roll around this winter.

The answer will depend on the answer to another more mysterious question: Where is Andre Smith’s head?

The uncertainty arises from Smith’s off-season worries. Immediately after signing the new contract in March, he fell off the radar, hibernating, in order to address “personal issues.”  This situation led him to miss all the team’s optional training activities (OTAs) and the team’s mandatory mini-camp last month, an absence that led to a fine. On the other hand, he’s reportedly been in contact with the team and still has the understanding if not the sympathy of his coaches and teammates. Coach Lewis and several teammates have expressed a range of responses from disappointed to sympathetic to hopeful with Center, Kyle Cook suggesting that, when he does show up, “he’ll be ready.”

Against those internal dispatches, Bengal fans have to consider the “Big Deal Let Down,” a phenomenon familiar to NFL fans everywhere in which a player executes a stellar performance in a contract year, scores the big contract, and then his head goes AWOL. Chris Burke of SI.com reported a number of teams, including the Bengals, recognized that threat to Smith’s 2013 potential for success and that may have led to Smith’s lukewarm reception in the free agent market after that 2012 season, one in which he was ranked as high as fifth of all offensive linemen by Pro Football Focus. In fact, Peter King of Sports Illustrated asserts that “Huge money is hazardous to this player’s greatness.”