But with numerous free-agent priorities, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, Cincinnati wasn't able to convince Smith to stick around. The 29-year-old will instead suit up for the Minnesota Vikings after announcing his decision on Thursday:
Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News reported "Smith can make up to [$4.5 million] on his [one-year] deal." Ben Goessling of ESPN.com supported Wolfson's report, but added that "Smith gets $1 million guaranteed."
Albert Breer of NFL.com reported Smith and Phil Loadholt will compete for the starting right tackle job, noting Loadholt is "coming off an Achilles injury."
Between Adam Jones, Leon Hall, NFL interception leader Reggie Nelson and starting strong safety George Iloka, Cincinnati had its work cut out for it on the open market just to keep its secondary relatively intact.
And that's not even mentioning leading tackler Vincent Rey, fellow linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The latter three got away (Lamur also signed with Minnesota), while Adam Jones, Iloka and Rey have stayed thus far.
In light of their decision to let Smith go and focus on others, the Bengals may covet a slightly more nimble right tackle. It's possible the franchise's most recent first-round pick, Cedric Ogbuehi, fills Smith's position.
Ogbuehi did appear in five games as a rookie thanks to former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's inventive formations and got valuable experience despite coming off a torn ACL. Between him and Jake Fisher, there's enough depth at offensive tackle to justify letting Smith go.
However, when Cincinnati ran off right tackle or on the right end, those were the only areas it didn't average over four yards per carry.
With Smith having never made a Pro Bowl as the No. 6 overall pick from the 2009 NFL draft, one could argue he has yet to reach his potential and never quite lived up to the hype in Cincinnati. Now he has a chance to make a strong first impression in his new NFL home.
Asked what his top destinations were by Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on March 14, Smith said of his visit with the Minnesota Vikings, "Things went well today. It's between (the Vikings) and Arizona. It's even."
The Vikings have to be thrilled Smith chose them among two promising situations he could've transitioned to in the NFC.
If Smith can continue to work on his agility and keep excess weight off, his pass-protection skills figure to improve along with his stamina, which will increase his value.
That's the area Minnesota needs to improve most. With a rather slender quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, it can't afford to have breakdowns in pass protection. The Vikings were Football Outsiders' 29th-rated pass protection team in 2015.
It helps to have a dynamic back like Adrian Peterson, but Minnesota must have better balance on offense to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender and build on the momentum of a surprise playoff berth. Smith figures to help open lanes for Peterson and should bolster the blocking for Bridgewater.