Monday, August 09, 1999

Smith should get in camp, earn his keep




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I am not a student of the slippery language of NFL rookie contracts. Voidable years? Buybacks? I don't know from a buyback. There are things I'd like to void — taxes, MTV, parking meters, Cher — but entire years are not among them.

        After years of watching agents and owners haggle over coin, my philosophy amounts to this:

        Who's right?

        Who's wrong?

        Who cares?

        The rest of it just gives me a headache.

        If you're looking for wisdom about Akili Smith's contract talks, skip this one.

        Here's what I do know: (1) A system that rewards someone for what he hasn't done is seriously nuts and (A) Akili Smith is not becoming a better quarterback at home in San Diego.

        You do not graduate from Harvard Business in June and make CEO money in July. A degree in communications does not make you Tom Brokaw the following Tuesday.

        If Smith produces, he will be paid. He can't produce when he's not playing.

Williams got it right
        I wonder why more rookies don't put their agents to work for them, instead of vice versa. Why don't more top draft picks say, “I want to be in camp when camp opens. I know I'm good. If I show it, I'll have more money than I can count. I can't show it holding out. Get me signed.”

        They don't say this, most of them. They let the agent do the dealing. They say, “That's what I'm paying him for.”

        Agents say they're looking out for their clients. Smith's agent, Leigh Steinberg, is one of the best. His clients are known for their philanthropy and their class.

        But Steinberg works in a competitive business. If other agents get their top picks buyback clauses and voidable years and any number of other goodies that guarantee money and/or freedom regardless of performance, Steinberg has to do the same for his people.

        Essentially, Steinberg is playing for next year's client crop right now. Is this serving Smith's best interests?

        The only player this year with the guts to pull his own strings was Ricky Williams. He told his agents to accept an incentive-laden deal with New Orleans. Ever since, Williams has been pilloried by agents and ridiculed by the media.

        Williams harmed others' ability to make obscene amounts of money without achieving anything, which is good non-work if you can get it.

        Williams said he'd prefer to earn his money. What a chump.

        But nobody's going to be cheering harder for Ricky Williams than I am. I hope the newest Saint marches into the club's vault and carries it away.

Smith needs to be in camp
        If Akili Smith holds out much longer, he's going to need a personal injury lawyer to mend his broken rookie year. Smith had exactly one great season at Oregon. Rules prohibit rookies from working out with their NFL teams until their college class graduates; Smith's class graduated a month later than most.

        He is a quarterback. Quarterbacks need more time to learn and adjust. He's behind and seriously close to not being able to catch up for 1999. What Smith is missing now will hurt him this year, next year and possibly beyond.

        He is not being well served by holding out.

        Mike Brown made the silly proposal of tying some of Smith's money to overall team success, but that's off the table now. (Imagine if we tied Brown's new stadium to overall team success. The Bengals would be playing in a tiki hut next year.)

        Steinberg agreed to nix a buyback clause. Apparently, only money divides them now.

        If Akili Smith is smart, he'll get a little Ricky Williams into him. Show up. Learn. Adjust. Play the way everyone believes you will. Then rake your money into tall piles.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

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