Andre Smith is asking for $9 million per year, but it’s doubtful that he’ll get it. Primarily, he hasn’t shown a consistent enough work ethic to justify $9 million in any year. Second, he hasn’t proven to be a max-salary player. Third, he seems to be missing some of the intangibles that you expect from a $9 million guy.
The road started off murky for Smith. As soon as he finalized his rookie contract negotiations in 2009, he sustained a non-contact injury to his foot that caused him to miss much of the season. In addition to that, Smith was overweight. So much so, that the Bengals wrote a clause into his contract that his weekly paychecks would be cut in half if he reported over 350 pounds.
His rookie contract was for six years, $42 million with an option for the last two years, which the Bengals waived, landing Smith with $21 million guaranteed and the freedom to test the market in free agency.
Smith has earned $23 million as a Bengal, $17 million coming in the last two years. Albeit his performance dramatically improved for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. So he’s shown that he can play up to the money, he just had to receive an average of $8.65 million per year to do so.
Now he’s asking for $9 million. The franchise tag for offensive linemen this year is set at $9.82 million. Smith is basically saying that he should be one of the top-paid tackles in the league, which leads to reason No. 2.
In order to demand $9 million a year, players usually have to have proven themselves on the field. While NFLTradeRumors has had Smith ranked as a top-10 free agent for the majority of the past season, he hasn’t held his end of the bargain when needed. Specifically, in games against J.J. Watt.
The Bengals have met the Texans the last two years in the AFC Wild Card Game, and both times J.J. Watt has had a field day. In those two games combined, Watt amassed seven total tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and three passes deflected, including this one that he returned for a touchdown.
Teams pay players $9 million a year so that when it comes down to an 80-yard drive to seal a playoff win, that player will make a play. Granted, Watt is a specimen and no one has figured out quite how to contain him—however, that’s what guys like Andre Smith are for.
Lastly, Smith lacks intangibles. For as long as Smith has been on NFL radar, he's made bad decisions. He left the combine early in 2009 without telling anyone. He showed up to the combine and pro day overweight and out of shape (Go to 0:40). And most recently, he tried to take a handgun into an Atlanta airport.
Smith is still a very good NFL football player. His intangible uncertainties, however, make him not worth $9 million a year. Smith is likely going to chase the money, as evident by the $42 million in his rookie contract. If a team is willing to pay him $9 million this year, he will probably take it. The Bengals will get in on it too. They won’t offer him the full $9 million that he’s asking for, but Smith will have to entertain it, nonetheless.
If there’s a team that’s willing to give Smith a four-year, $36 million deal, he should take it. However, he’s much more likely to settle for a three-year, $20 million contract, and that’s what the Bengals should offer him.