CINCINNATI — The last time Andre Smith was involved in contract negotiations with the Bengals, the scenario played out in a weekly TV drama.
The cameras of NFL Films followed Smith and the Bengals’ management for “Hard Knocks” as they went about their business separately. The Bengals were going through training camp in Georgetown, Ky., while Smith was home in Alabama holding out.
That holdout plagued Smith for two seasons as he battled weight issues and injuries.
In the last two seasons, Smith’s play at right tackle has proven worthy of being the sixth overall pick in his draft class and Friday the sides agreed to continue their relationship for another three years.
It took longer than expected for the Bengals to re-sign the unrestricted free agent, but the deal allows the Bengals to return all of their starters from last year, including bookend tackles Smith and Andrew Whitworth for protection of quarterback Andy Dalton.
Free agency deals don’t often get done in the middle of the NFL Draft, but this one, announced at the same time the Bengals selected North Carolina running back Geovani Bernard with the fifth pick in the second round, was an added bonus to an offense looking to increase its production.
“It was time. I felt it was time for me to be home, where I’m supposed to be and get back to playing Bengal football,” Smith said. “The difference between the first two years and the last two years, the first two years I was revolting against everything. I was like ‘I’m not going to listen to (head coach) Marvin (Lewis), I’m going to do what I want to do.’ The last two years came down to the lockout, I didn’t have anyone around and it came up to me and that’s when I lost all my weight. Last year I came in and we had success and this year I think we’re going to be even better on offense.”
Smith said weighs 335 pounds these days and has been working out at the Warehouse Performance Institute in the Birmingham area, a gym co-owned by Smith’s former Alabama teammate, Mike McCoy.
“He runs you through the ringers, like a ‘Rocky’ workout,” Smith said. “It’s just a hole in the wall, in the back of a warehouse. He has one rack with the bench on it and he runs you through the ringers for two hours.”
Smith was one of the top tackles on the free agent market this offseason, but the expected windfall in the neighborhood of $9 million per year never materialized for anyone.
Jake Long (St. Louis) and Sebastian Vollmer (New England), the two top rated free agents, got deals worth an average of $8.5 million and $6.7 million, respectively. Smith and the Bengals were willing to bide their time to get a deal done.
“It wasn’t really that hard,” Smith said. “(Agent) Ben (Dogra) had his plan. He knew how he was going to do it. Of course, it didn’t work exactly like he thought it was supposed to; there are going to be bumps in the road. For the most part, everything went exactly like he said it was going to go.”
The Bengals went into the offseason with 23 potential unrestricted free agents. They re-signed 14 of those players, including defensive end Michael Johnson as their franchise tag player, and lost six to other teams. Only cornerback Nate Clements, safety Chris Crocker and linebacker Thomas Howard remain unsigned.
They added just four free agents from other teams, most notably former Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison.
“It’s obviously been an on-going process getting Andre under contract,” Marvin Lewis said. “What we were able to do at the onset of free agency was, number one, retain our guys. We felt it was imperative. They (management) did a great job of that. It’s been a lot of work, but we’ve been able to get that accomplished.”