The Cincinnati Bengals have yet to come to terms with free-agent offensive tackle Andre Smith despite his breakout 2012 campaign, and may be justified in doing so—other NFL teams are reportedly worried about paying Smith what he wants.
According to SI's Peter King, several NFL teams are afraid of paying Smith a big signing bonus:
I think Cincinnati tackle Andre Smith should come with a warning label. Something like, "Huge money is hazardous to this player's greatness." Talked to several teams scared of Smith. They remember his weight problems early in his Cincinnati tenure, and they fear what a big signing bonus would do to his desire.
The unknown variables surrounding Smith are likely why Cincinnati is letting him test the open market after hitting defensive end Michael Johnson with the franchise tag instead (per Rotoworld).
NFL teams, including the Bengals, are hesitant because of Smith's performance before the 2012 season. He battled a variety of injuries and weight issues during his first two seasons in the league. The issues were significant enough for the Bengals to place a weight clause in his rookie contract—one in which he would lose money if he was caught weighing over 350 pounds (per ESPN).
The various issues with Smith were so great his first two years that the Bengals elected to not pick up the option on his contract, which would have kept him on the roster through 2014, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Of course, after Cincinnati declined the option, Smith went on to put together an elite season and earn the label as the best right tackle in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus' 2012 rankings.
To make matters worth for Smith, reports from Pro Football Talk have surfaced that claim Smith is seeking around $9 million per year. This is $4-5 million a year above some of the highest-paid right tackles in the NFL currently (Tennessee's David Steward makes $4 million a year), and closer to top left tackle money.
Even further justifying the NFL team's hesitance to pay big money for Smith is his arrest back in January for allegedly bringing a gun to an airport (per WCPO).
All of the above minus his stellar 2012 campaign show why the Bengals are content with potentially letting the best right tackle in football hit the open market—he may be in for a rude financial awakening if teams feel the same way the Cincinnati front office does.
None of this is to say Smith has not turned a corner in his career. If so, Cincinnati may be making a foolish decision to let him walk. The problem is, it takes more than one great season at any position in the NFL to be paid a top contract. One breakout year after a string of issues does not warrant top money.
The opposite could also hold true for Smith. There is something to be said for a player to finally have a breakout year when playing for a new contract as Smith was in 2012. A team could grossly overpay for his services, only to have him take his foot off the pedal.
The Bengals have shown they are not the team that is going to make that mistake, and head coach Marvin Lewis and Co. are the people who truly know Smith best.
It is hard to say what exactly could happen with Smith once he hits the open market. It only takes one team to give him the exact money he wants and trump the majority market value. Smith and his agent are clearly gunning for that team, but as of now, it does not sound like one is out there.
There is still hope for the Bengals and Smith to work something out, but only if the market makes him lower his price. Smith represents one of the biggest gambles in free agency this offseason, a gamble the Bengals are not willing to take despite having the most cap room in the NFL.
Perhaps the rest of the NFL should pay attention.