Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Feb 2007

Bengals Franchise Justin Smith

The Bengals have placed the franchise tag on defensive end Justin Smith, guaranteeing him a salary of $8,644,000 for the 2007 season. Smith, 27, has never had fewer than 5 or more than 8.5 sacks in his six year-career. Playing RDE for the Bengals, teams were eighth at running to left end and seventeenth at running to left tackle opposite him.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 16 Feb 2007

35 comments, Last at 21 Feb 2007, 6:58pm by Oldcat


by Show (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 3:51pm

Normally I wear protection, but then I thought, "When am I ever going to make it back to Haiti?"

by ABW (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 3:58pm

Well...it's more interesting than someone just saying "First", I suppose.

by Francisco (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 4:03pm

Well, he's never been arrested, and I guess that's a plus.

by Show (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 4:06pm


It was a reference to the old "Bad Idea Jeans" sketch on SNL. Tagging Smith, of course, being a bad idea.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 4:16pm

re 3: actually, he was arrested for DUI back in 2004. Seriously.

I think this tag is a head-scratcher to say the least.

by perrin (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 4:36pm

As a Bengals fan, it seems to me Smith has a couple games a year where he puts a lot of pressure on the QB--2006 vs. Carolina, he looked great--but doesn't make any difference for the rest of the games. Maybe he's inconsistent; maybe he can be handled by the majority of left tackles in the league, but does great when he's got an advantage.

Either way, I don't like the franchise tag. He's no elite DE; why use salary cap space pretending like he is? Hopefully the Bengals are just making him a mediocre placeholder for one more year while they find someone else better in the draft, either this year or next. A franchise tag is better than signing him to a huge contract, right? (Of course, they could still do that.)

by Walt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 4:58pm

Also a Bengals fan and unfortunately not surprised by this move. I would have preferred they use the tag on Steinbach and force someone to make a trade for him or give up the draft picks. But any $ spent had to go to the defense this off-season.

Smith just doesn’t seem like the right guy but perhaps in the long run it will be cheaper to pay him for a single season than draft another DE in Round 1.

Sam Adams has had his knee worked on and is promising to come into camp in shape. I can hope that Smith and a svelte 330 lbs Adams can transform the D line next season. Plus I can hope magic fairies put Chris Perry back together again convince Chris Henry and company to be good little boys. As they say, wish in one hand…

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 5:00pm

Show #1&4, excellent commercial spoof. One of their best ever.

by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 5:28pm

I seriously doubt that Smith is in the Bengals long term plans, or even that they want to have him next year. To me this reeks of not wanting to see a former high draft pick leave without getting any compensation. They are going to try ro trade him and if I were Smith or his agent I would sign the tender, pocket the money and refuse to come to terms with any team that the Bengals tried to trade me to. Actually what I would have done is let the Bengals know that I wouldn't let them trade me to avoid the tag in the first place.

This isn't what tags are supposed to be used for, I don't think that the Bengals want to keep Smith on a long term deal, they are just trying to get a draft pick for his rights. Why should Smith accept his value being reduced to other teams as they will have to give up a pick to aquire him and will probably look elsewhere as a result.

Does anyone know if a franchise tag is guaranteed once a player signs it?

by BC Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 6:17pm

I think Justin Smith is this year's Jeff Backus.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 6:20pm

This isn’t what tags are supposed to be used for

I hear this fairly often. Why not? The tags were a loophole given to teams in collective bargaining that allows them to keep exactly one player for one year. The player in return gets a Top 5 salary, guaranteed. The teams can (and do) use the tag in whatever way fits the rules. Players can (and do) hold out. Both sides can negotiate. I don't think "should" really enters into the discussion at all.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 6:26pm

I remember reading last year that there was specific language in the CBA forbidding the use of a tag specifically for the purpose of trading a player.

Of course, that's unenforceable, because they're attempting to judge intent.

The way players, agents, and other teams getting around tampering prohibitions, I'm ok with this.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 6:29pm

Re: 9

Yes, the $$ is guaranteed once the player signs.

by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 7:12pm


My main reason is because it shouldn't work. Justin Smith should just sign the tender and refuse to come to terms with any team that the Bengals try to trade him to. He wouldn't get a contract that pays him over $8m a year and there is no way that the Bengals could afford to tag him the year after (for £10.3m at 20% of this year's tender). The following year he would hit free agency completely unencumbered and cash in. He could get insurance against possible injury and has been fairly durable so far in his career anyway. Also he isn't in a position similar to Briggs for example where his first contract was small as he was the fourth pick in the draft.

by dbt (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 7:23pm

Lance Briggs just went too.
Click my name.

by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 7:47pm

dbt: well, that's no surprise. the real question is whether or not the Bears will be able to resign him to a long term deal after this year. clearly a lot could happen between then and now but my gut instinct is no; I get the feeling he wants to be perceived as the Guy and not just glorified support for Urlacher. Oh well, at least we have him for one more year.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 8:38pm


PFT is reporting that Adam Shefter has reported that Asante Samuel is franchised as well.

The slim pickings get slimmer. The highest paid LB next year will be - Adalius Thomas?

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 8:59pm

Are you guys sure this is a bad idea? My admittedly small knowledge of what's going to happen this off-season is that there's a boatload of cap space available for not that many good players. So it's a player's market, and there are going to be some huge contracts. Maybe $8.4mill and no long term committment isn't that bad for a decent DE in his prime.

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 9:15pm

I'm with 17.

by Sundown (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 9:19pm

You know there's a problem when the average fan goes "who?" when they hear sombody's been declared a "franchise player."

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 9:46pm

What happens if a player does not sign the tender? Does he then become a FA? I doubt it, because then all these players who don't want to be franchised simply wouldn't sign. How does that work?

by Random Bengals Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 9:47pm

You said it, Sundown. I really hope we can work out a trade. Since the end of the season, the organization's attitude towards the defense has gone from from "We need a major overhaul" (good) to "The answers to our problems are in this building" (are you kidding me?!). I have more faith in the team's drafting ability than I have in Justin Smith to miraculously show more results.

by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 02/16/2007 - 11:32pm

Bill Wallace

I do see what you mean, but if it were me in charge of a team's cap space I would want any payments in the region of $8m to be used to secure a guy for a number of years, not just as an interim payment for a one year contract. I have heard that Smith wants out of Cincy. I think that this is part of the problem for them in that he doesn't want an extension from them.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 12:04am

I think it's a good pick up. Justin Smith is a decent DE at a position of serious weakness on the Bengals. He's young, he's effective, the Bengals have plenty of cap room, and at the cost of a franchise tag, it's cheaper then he'd get on open market. It's a complete sellers market this year.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 12:08am

The only thing I dislike about the new CBA is that in theory the league minimum players would all be getting more, but I think instead what you'll see is Superstar players making crazy jack, and then your average B, B+ player making much more.

by BillWallace (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 12:34am

22. I guess I have a feeling that we're in hyperinflation, and $8M ain't what it used to be.

This is why everybody's getting franchised now, because the slotted salary is based on pre-inflation numbers, and is a huge discount on what this season's market is going to be.

Also shorter term might be better for the Bengals. Part of the problem with signing a 28 year old is that you end up having to pay them the same when they're 32 as you do for their 28 year.

by JasonK (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 12:59am


When a player is given a franchise tender, their choices are either to sign it and play, sit out the season, or try to force a trade.

(Way back in '97, Sean Gilbert took option #2 and sat out the season rather than sign the franchise tender from the 'Skins. In early '98, Carolina made the completely idiotic move of signing him and giving Washington 2 first round picks.)

by Theo, Netherlands (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 1:08am

As a Bengals fan... no just kidding... there are no Bengals fans...

I just think the guy is good. But THAT good??
The best players on your team isn't always a top 5 player on that position.
Sad but true.

by Andrew J (Cambridge, UK) (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 10:28am

#28: Yes, we do exist. And after what we've been through between constant losing and our players turning up on the police blotter with alarming regularity, we're all feeling a little sensitive. So lay off us! Unless you're a Lions or Cards fan and need to blow off some steam... ;-)

As for Smith being franchised, I can't say that I'm entirely happy about a solid DE being paid top dollar, but the move is defensible. Even with Smith, the Bengals need to upgrade the D-line, and have an arguably even more pressing need for another CB that they will have to address in the draft. The last thing they needed was having to plug yet another hole on defense! I agree with many of the above posts that suggest that this may be a move meant to buy them a year with which to find his replacement.

This came down to the choice of retaining Smith or Steinbach, and they had already invested heavily in the OL. Steinbach is without question an excellent player, but paying three linemen 'left tackle' money is just too much, especially with the defense being as weak as it is. The team does have depth on the OL, and Andrew Whitworth was very impressive in replacing Levi Jones for most of the year. He is good enough to start, though the team will need to draft a lineman to compensate.

Finally, here's a question for Bengals fans (or anyone else who cares enough to answer): Do you think that the team should have extended Steinbach's contract instead of Willie Anderson's? Steinbach is considerably younger, but Anderson is a leader on the team and seen as a 'character' guy on a team notably lacking in them. Steinbach, though not generally regarded as a character risk, is nevertheless one of the 'Bengal nine' thanks to a nautical DUI last summer. If I had made the decision, I would likely have chosen to let Anderson go, and used Whitworth at RT. But isn't choosing talent over character exactly what has gotten the team in so much trouble in the past year?

Apologies for the marathon post!

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 12:33pm

Quick question on this:

how often in the past have teams used the franchise tag on a player who has never made a Pro Bowl? (I guess from post #10 that Jeff Backus is one. Others?)

by Kellerman (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 1:53pm

29: The real problem with the offensive line money is that they resigned Bobbie Williams. He's OK, but clearly the 4th or 5th best lineman on the team. Steinbach would and should get more than Williams, but Williams' money would sure be a good start toward signing Steinbach, then use Andrews or Whitworth at guard (or both) with Steinbach at guard or center.

As far as Smith goes, the Bengals have rarely had a completely successful outside free agent signing on defense, whether due to age/injury issues, scheme or whatever. The most successful of them is probably Tory James (or Ashley Ambrose, if you go back a ways). Smith does play every game, every down, makes a lot of tackles and rushes the passer a little and doesn't seem to be a complainer or locker room problem. So, based on that history, you look around the league and where is the free agent DE that is better than Smith? Where is the rookie available in the draft that is better than Smith? Who already on the team has legitimate potential to be better than Smith? If your answer is "no one" then this move makes some sense. I do think that if Smith doesn't sign the tender before the draft, then it may get withdrawn depending on what happens on draft day.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 4:30pm


Has Asante Samuel made a Pro Bowl? I don't think he did.

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Sat, 02/17/2007 - 7:57pm

and here I thought the Bengals would move to a 3-4

by Don M (not verified) :: Sun, 02/18/2007 - 7:14pm

I don't see why it doesn't make sense, Smith is solid and seems to have some room to improve. Clearly the Bengals need to improve the LBs and DB depth, so holding on to your quality defensive ends (Geathers and Smith) seems to make sense to me.) He's just the sort of player to run off and get paid far more than he ends up being worth to his new team.

by Oldcat (not verified) :: Wed, 02/21/2007 - 6:58pm

#33 Despite years of denials about moving to the 3-4, many Bengals fans are expecting the same thing. However, the first thing you need to run a 3-4 is four linebackers. The more or less certain loss of Thurman and Pollack for good means the Bengals may well have to draft a LB to run a 4-3. Brooks is pretty raw, Simmons is aging, Landon Johnson may be gone this year or the next, Caleb Miller is small, and has had 1 healthy season in his career. Jeanty was a nice surprise.

The team just can't keep enough 'backers healty or un-stupid to man a 3-4.